“They work when we work,” was the phrase used by Winnipeg Jets Executive Chairman and Governor Mark Chipman on Thursday afternoon during a press conference at Bell MTS Place when speaking on the uncertainty surrounding the many employees of True North Sport + Entertainment.
The Jets held a brief media availability from the Matt Frost Media Room Thursday relating to the league update on the ever-spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Senior Vice President Kevin Donnelly – who mainly looks after events separate from hockey held at Bell MTS Place – also spoke at the briefing.
After touching on the cancellation of this weekend’s Disney on Ice show originally slated for a Friday-Sunday running, the bulk of the presentation was shifted towards the Winnipeg Jets and the league’s decision to suspend play, following the standard set by the National Basketball Association on Wednesday evening.
This league-wide shut-down was followed up by the suspension/cancellation of nearly every form of hockey worldwide, including the AHL, CHL, ECHL, NCAA, U-Sports, MJHL, MMJHL, KJHL, CRJHL and minor hockey across the country. Although this ultimately means the end of many unfinished sporting seasons for children, youth, teenagers, university/college students and professionals worldwide, the decision to halt play does carry some other added baggage such as questions regarding professional players and their whereabouts, training, travel, scheduling and payment, amongst other issues.
With no set structure yet in place from the NHL or the NHL Players Association, the league’s players have been ordered to stay home, while participating in social distancing and practicing self-quarantine methods while remaining in their host cities.
True North is also home to roughly 300 full-time and 1,200 part-time employees. Chipman did make it clear that none of the company’s approximate 1,500 employees have been laid off, however, he did state that those in concession and in-arena/game-day positions would not be getting paid, as originally scheduled.
With no hockey to be played at Bell MTS Place for the foreseeable future, those scheduled to work the remaining four home games in March will not be doing so – thus, not earning a paycheque for any of those nights. The Manitoba Moose, who also use concession and in-arena/game-day staff, have three home games remaining to be played in March, as well as three home games left on the schedule in April.
“Those people are on part-time agreements,” Chipman said. “They work when we work. So, regrettably, to the extent that we’re not putting on shows and games, those people obviously would not have a call to work.”
On Wednesday – following the suspension of the NBA season – Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced that he would be paying his staff that would regularly be working during the postponed games. Thursday saw a number of other NHL and NBA teams step forward and agree to pay their employees in various fashions. When some owners did not, players stepped up and offered to pay the salaries of those serving the teams.
By Saturday, Florida Panthers’ netminder Sergei Bobrovsky added his name to the list of professional athletes who would be donating $100K to help supplement wages for in-arena and game-day staff. Also on that list are NBA stars Zion Williamson, Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry and Kevin Love.
Calgary’s Milan Lucic, Sean Monahan, Zac Rinaldo and Mark Giordano have donated to the Flames’ in-arena staff Go-Fund-Me page. Brad Marchand of the Bruins has contributed to a similar page set for TD Garden staff in Boston. Rudy Gobert – the first professional sporting figure diagnosed with the virus and the face behind the NBA suspension – decided Sunday to donate $500K to the part-time employees in Utah. Major League Baseball does not yet have a plan in place for part-time workers.
By Sunday, 19 of the league’s teams had announced payment plans for employees, including three Canadian clubs: Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, leaving Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Winnipeg as the only cities north of the 49th parallel with unpaid staff. Only four teams have announced that they would not pay employees during this work stoppage: Buffalo, Boston, Calgary and Winnipeg. Nine teams remain undecided.
Oddly enough for both Calgary and Winnipeg, the ownership teams do have rather deep pockets, with the Flames recently asking the public to help fund nearly $300 million of a $565 million project for Calgary’s new arena, while Winnipeg’s Co-Owner David Thomson and family carry a net worth of $41 billion. Thomson, himself, is worth roughly $37.8 billion. As pointed out by Leafs columnist Jeff Veillette, if Thomson decided to rashly hand out as much as $50K to each of his 1,200 part-time employees for the sake of work-stoppage compensation, he would still be worth the same $37.8 billion.
Chipman, along with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that the NHL players would be receiving their final three paycheques of the season, scheduled for March 13, March 30 and April 15. Despite the NHL and AHL seasons expected to pick back up carry onward when safe to do so, the ECHL will most likely cease operations, and not pay its players for the final month-and-a-half of play.
Much like other cancelled events worldwide due to the current healthcare scare, employees scheduled to work will not be seeing regular paycheques. Chipman made it clear that once the NHL does resume, these staff members would get their regularly scheduled payment. But for the time being, the plan is to hold fast.
For one in-arena staff member of True North, who serves as a beverage hawker in concession at Bell MTS Place on Jets/Moose game days as well as during events, the decision to not continue paying part-time staff during the break came across as “ridiculous”.
“It honestly breaks my heart,” she said. “I know I’m not the one who’s keeping the team in The ‘Peg and stuff, but every game my job is to keep the customers happy and keep them wanting to come back. I am definitely part of that. We all do a great job by satisfying them and making them happy so they keep returning. It sure won’t hurt the owners’ wallets to help their staff out a little. It’s ridiculous to me honestly, that not even the owner or any of the players have offered to help. It blows my mind, especially seeing so many other teams and players doing it; it’s honestly sad.”
This employee, who relies on her full-time job as well as ‘two or three’ part-time positions to pay her daily/weekly/monthly expenses, now faces the reality that she might not be able to keep up with all her payments this quarter.
“I feel like the players still being payed for not playing is a slap in our faces,” she said. “I understand that it’s their job and they had no say in postponing the season, but it makes me feel like we as game-day staff aren’t important to True North. It seems as though the Winnipeg Jets organization just doesn’t see the hard work we do for them. Now, the last couple games of this month I will not be working. This affects me because I pay rent with my money from the Jets games and now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
True North sent out an email to its casual and part-time employees on Saturday, highlighting the plan set in place for the time between the league shut-down and start-up.
“For approximately 97% of the the 1,050 casual and part-time employees who work at True North venues, income from True North is not their primary source of income. Rather, it is supplemental income to other full and/or part-time employment, retirement income, or a part-time job while being a full or part-time student. For this group, True North shared that the principle of paying employees when shifts are worked will remain. For the remaining small group of hourly employees who work volume suggest that they are dependent on True North income, other arrangements have and are being explored.”
This letter, signed by Winnipeg Jets President and Chief Operating Officer John Olfert also indicated that more information and direction would be communicated “within the coming days as the circumstances allow”.