The night the Lakers beat the 76ers a few Fridays ago, security officers at Staples Center stole the pre-game show: They tried to block about 50 food-concession workers from leaving the sports arena for a brief protest over unfair labor practices. Under threat of termination, 30 returned to their posts. But 20 workers slipped through to make some points to the fans outside. Chanting and marching in front of the ticket windows, they passed out leaflets asking, ”Could you raise your family on $35 a day?“ The protesting 20 were placed under ”indefinite suspension.“ While their employer, Ogden Entertainment, insists that didn’t mean ”fired,“ they were barred from work when they showed up for April 1 shifts.

It may have looked like a 30-20 loss for labor‘s team, but one night’s action never tells the story of the season, and the protesters‘ persistence brought better results. Ogden allowed them to resume working April 14, and two weeks later, Ogden and their union, Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 11, reached an agreement bringing health coverage and substantial raises to over 400 workers. Stand workers will get an immediate hourly increase of $1.80 (up 20 percent from their current wage) with 50-cents-per-hour increments in each of the four following years.

Employees at Ogden, which manages food-and-beverage concessions on the ground level and upper concourse, had been making just $35 per shift. While all other employers at Staples reached early agreements with unions, said HERE’s chief negotiator, Karine Mansoorian, Ogden just wouldn‘t play ball. Levy Restaurants, serving the arena’s sky boxes and high-end eateries, signed a contract with HERE in November, giving workers premium-scale hourly rates when their shifts are short, Mansoorian said. Janitors, ticket takers and stagehands have contracts through other unions.

Ogden recognized HERE as the bargaining agent for its Nacho Camachos and Pizza Hut staffs last October. At the negotiating table, said Mansoorian, progress had been less than zero, as Ogden put forward an offer that tied higher hourly wages to a reduction in hours worked per shift. On March 30, the day before the walkout, the union filed unfair-labor-practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Shrinking shifts were a bone of contention, said Gerardo Lozano, who also works at Dodger Stadium and gets a flat fee per event under a HERE contract there. When Staples opened, Lozano recalled, management was promising steady work, but six-hour shifts offered in October morphed into four hours rather than eight. The new contract will guarantee workers shifts of no less than five hours.

Ogden‘s tortoiselike negotiating pace may have been related to its plans to exit the food-and-entertainment business. Parent company Ogden Corporation announced on the day of the protest that its venue-management business — at Staples, the Convention Center, the Greek Theater, Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, and in other cities — had been sold for $236 million to rival Aramark Corporation, which serves numerous sports and convention centers, including Dodger Stadium. Ogden executive Jack McIntyre stepped up negotiations with the union after the sale was announced.

The Ogden strife is the first labor-management conflict at the $400 million sports and entertainment complex, where promises to be a ”union-friendly“ facility garnered the support of local labor for city subsidies and expedited permits. With the Democratic Convention looming less than four months away, Staples Center officials had every incentive to ensure labor peace — and pressed Ogden toward the bargaining table.

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.

LA Weekly