Tom Walsh, president of HERE Local 814, which represents the concessions workers at the Forum, estimates that at least 80 percent of Forum business will move to Staples Center and that most of the workers will want to follow. But Ogden insists that the Forum workers, many of them 20- to 30-year veterans, must compete with new workers and reapply — this despite a formal labor contract that guarantees jobs at the Staples complex for Ogden’s 400 to 500 Forum employees.
"We negotiated it in our contract — but they have now said that they are only willing to give preference, that they will interview and give preference to our members over someone from the outside. But no guarantee — and they use those words — no guarantee," says Walsh.
Helen Mitchell, a cashier and beer tender at the Forum for 29 years, laughs a little at a question about why Ogden would want entirely new workers to apply for the positions. "They want us to lose seniority and benefits and start from the bottom. I get a good salary where I am, but if I reapply and go over there, they’ll drop it to five bucks an hour."
Ogden Entertainment refused to comment on the dispute.
Another Staples contractor, Levy Restaurants, which will handle fine dining at the center restaurant and luxury suites, signed a neutrality agreement with the union this week. This arena managers did not participate in that pact.
Koff, at HERE, contends that the Staples Center management could easily pressure contractors into dealing fairly with the union. Local 814 organizer Kurt Peterson agrees. "Were they to say to Ogden, ‘You must guarantee those jobs,’ they’d do it in a second."
Of course, this is the same management group that, Koff says, agreed to stay neutral on labor issues in their building. Koff says he was surprised to see the arena partners renege. "A lot of things in this world are done by a handshake," Koff says.
The union still has two trump cards to play — the AFL-CIO national convention, set for Los Angeles days before the Staples Center’s October opening, and the 2000 Demo-cratic convention, to be held at the new arena. L.A.’s proposal to the Democratic National Committee, Koff says, was full of "declarations and affirmations that Staples Center is a union facility." No one will want a picket line around the building during the convention, he says.
Walsh cautiously agrees. "We’re committed to fight it until we win, and I think we will win. But the question is, will it be before they open and before these high-profile events take place — or will it be after? Or during?"