Cubs, White Sox set up emergency relief funds for game-day employees, but is it enough?

Each team established a $1 million emergency relief fund to aid ballpark employees who are out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, but some workers say that’s not enough.

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The Cubs and White Sox each set up a $1 million emergency relief fund to aid ballpark employees who are out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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A member of Wrigley Field’s grounds crew sat in his Chicago apartment and stared at a magnet of the Cubs’ 2020 schedule on his refrigerator.

The magnet, which he got toward the end of last season as a game-day giveaway, once made him excited for the upcoming season, but now it’s a haunting reminder of the money he’s losing as Major League Baseball’s season remains suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s 18 games [in April],” he told the Sun-Times under the condition of anonymity in fear of repercussions from his employer. “This is the heaviest month in terms of games for us.”

Eighteen games would equal roughly $1,100, he estimated. And that number doesn’t include off days, which can be longer and more profitable.

The Cubs and White Sox each set up a $1 million emergency relief fund to aid ballpark employees who are out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, but some workers say that’s not nearly enough.

Both teams this week informed eligible staffers — including some who are employed by companies other than the clubs, such as Levy Restaurants and United Services Companies — that they can apply for a one-time, non-taxable grant of $500 to help relieve some short-term financial stress.

Those permitted to apply include seasonal and part-time hourly associates, such as ushers, ticket-takers, vendors, concession staff, parking lot attendants, janitors, security and food service personnel.

The Cubs have also opened a grant program to help some of those who support “the game-day experience outside of the ballpark.” Gallagher businesses, including Big Star Wrigleyville, Budweiser Brickhouse Tavern, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Hotel Zachary, are also eligible to apply.

More than 2,000 Sox employees and 3,000 Cubs employees could be helped with these funds, the teams said, adding that some have already received checks this week.

But some ballpark workers said they believe the teams could do more to assist those in financial crises.

“We’re missing out on over a month and a half of work and that’s a month and a half worth of rent that I have to cover and I’m not going to be able to pay for,” the groundskeeper said. “Five-hundred dollars, that’s only half of my rent, and it almost hurt even worse when I saw in the email, ‘This is to help your family in this time of need,’ And it’s not going to help anybody in a time of need like this, it doesn’t even cover half of the living expenses for me.”

Cubs spokesperson Julian Green said the grants aren’t meant to replace lost wages during the big-league hiatus, “but could be the difference between buying groceries, covering a portion of rent or buying prescription drugs.” In an email detailing the grant program sent to staffers Wednesday, the Cubs also encouraged their out-of-work employees to apply for unemployment.

One seat vendor, who works at the United Center, Guaranteed Rate Field and Wrigley Field and also asked to be anonymous, said his unemployment checks have helped him. And though he thinks the $500 check isn’t enough, “it’s better than nothing at this point,” he said.

Some in-season teams pledged to cover day-of-game employees after the seasons were suspended because of COVID-19.

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, an investor in the Sun-Times, announced last month their plans to compensate the roughly 1,200 game-day employees at the United Center for the final 14 regular-season Bulls and Blackhawks games that were postponed. That figures to be more than $3.3 million in compensation for lost wages, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

The Cubs are the fourth-most valuable franchise in Major League Baseball with an estimated $3.2 billion valuation, according to Forbes. Meanwhile, the White Sox, the 14th-most valuable franchise, are valued at $1.65 billion.

“Everybody kind of knows what they’re worth and how much love they do have,” the groundskeeper said. “And again they wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for the people who came in everyday and did the grunt work and made it beautiful enough to make it this long-lasting franchise.”

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