ESPN Zone Workers Raise Legal Issues Against Closure

ESPN Zone Workers Raise Legal Issues Against Closure

Workers at the ESPN Zone gathered in front of their former employer at a press conference on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 to express their outrage and to raise legal issues regarding their termination and treatment. The Disney Corporation announced on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 they would be shutting down the following week – Tuesday, June 15, 2010 – its ESPN Zone locations in Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, Washington, and Baltimore, keeping its Los Angeles and Anaheim locations open. However, according to workers, they were not supposed to know about the shut down before Tuesday. Workers had to undergo the humiliation of learning about the restaurant establishment’s closure and their subsequent termination from local news. After being an anchor in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for 12 years, workers were to arrive at ESPN Zone with its doors closed. To add insult to injury, the severance agreement package that each of the 150 workers received did not compensate them for the amount of time they worked; only for the last six months from January to June – the slowest period of the year, particularly in lieu of February’s blizzard. This meant workers received compensation from their lowest paychecks. The severance agreement also stipulated workers could not file for unemployment compensation until 60 days after ESPN Zone’s closure on June 15. All direct deposit pay checks were halted, causing delays in payments to child care, rent and mortgage payments, utilities and others. Many were forced immediately to seek work. Others had to drop out of school. Backed by the United Workers, a human rights organization of low-wage workers, ESPN Workers revealed during the press conference that their former employer is in legal violation of their rights, and demanded that the corporation come under compliance. In a letter addressed to Disney and ESPN dated June 30,2010, J. Peter Sabonis and Nathaniel Norton, attorneys for United Workers ESPN Zone Human Rights Committee cited the WARN Act, a federal law that requires employers to give workers 60 days notice prior to shut down. Because the restaurant chain failed to do so, the attorneys are demanding that ESPN workers receive 60 days ‘at a regular rate of pay which is the higher of our last pay check or our average pay over the last three years – and that includes overtime.’ This reporter attempted to contact Disney for comment, but no one responded. ESPN Workers and the United Workers both hold the Cordish Co. responsible as well, who control the building in which ESPN Zone operated. “I know it wasn’t Cordish that personally treated ESPN workers the way they did, but they knew about it,” said Shawn Green, a 9-year ESPN worker. “Whoever they’ve got in their building, they should make sure they are going to treat their employees fairly. They’ve got to be held to that standard too.” Workers gave Disney owned ESPN a seven day deadline to meet with them regarding their demands. “They were just there to make money off us,” said Leonard Gray, a cook at ESPN of over six years. “We were the backbone. We made the ESPN how it is and how they got rid of us is real bad and I know they know that. Don’t try to sugarcoat it. We are human beings. How are we going to live now?”