Fired ESPN Zone worker Emanuel McCray speaks out after a federal judge awards him and dozens of other workers $245,000 for unlawful termination
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
On Wednesday, some 140 abruptly fired workers from Baltimore’s ESPN Zone in 2010 were finally able to celebrate after a judge finalized a settlement awarding them damages totaling $235,000. Earlier this year, the federal judge Catherine C. Blake found that ESPN Zone, a Disney subsidiary, failed to give workers the necessary two months’ notice warning they were going to be laid off, as required by federal law. ESPN declined to comment for this story.
The laid off employees found support from the Baltimore-based grassroots group United Workers, who said in a statement that this victory is only the beginning and indicative of wider problems in the city’s development model, which focuses heavily on the Inner Harbor, a major tourist attraction. The United Workers said they have documented chronic wage theft, abusive working conditions, lack of health care and sick days, and failure to respond to workplace injuries.
Now joining us to discuss this is one of the laid off employees, Emanuel McCray. He’s also a member of United Workers on their leadership council. He was fired from ESPN Zone with no warning. He worked there as a DJ and a host. He’s also an Iraq War veteran and currently battling cancer.
Emanuel, thank you so much for joining us.
EMANUEL MCCRAY, LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER, UNITED WORKERS: Thank you. Thank you.
NOOR: So you’ve been through a lot over these last three years. Talk about how it feels right now to take on one of the most powerful corporations in the country and end up winning.
MCCRAY: To win is definitely a great feeling, being somebo dy who’s a low-wage worker on behalf of the other workers who then stood up or didn’t know what to do to stand up against a giant. Prior to that, it was–I would say it was definitely a struggle, ’cause it was a back-and-fourth game that was probably beyond my comprehension or other people’s’ comprehensions from the legal side who fought on behalf.
NOOR: And talk about the working conditions you faced there. You said you were a low-wage worker. How much money did you make there? Like, what was it like to work there? And, also, how did you find out that you were getting laid off as ESPN Zone was closing down in the Inner Harbor?
MCCRAY: When I was working out there at the time, I was making, like, what, $10 an hour. But the hours on average didn’t reflect itself, especially during the wintertime, making a living off of five to ten hours a week. Had to, you know, work another job.
During the summertime months, yes, hours is pretty fine. And ESPN Zone was one of my favorite restaurants to work with to just–I was just totally shocked that they have the nerve to, like, shut down [incompr.] respect and the decency to let their workers know that, hey, we’re going to shut down. Why don’t you prepare yourselves to leave out, get yourself other jobs? They didn’t do that.
NOOR: How did you find out?
MCCRAY: A leak [incompr.] somebody from the corporate office leaked it out to the news. Maybe–I don’t know if they felt sorry or whatever, but they leaked out on news, and it was reported, and we had to watch on the news that they were shutting down. And in the process, when they leaked it out, they just kept it open for one more week longer, which their original intentions was just shut down the next day, and we just come to padlocked doors, and had to sort of wait for a meeting [incompr.] set up [incompr.] what they was going to do with us.
NOOR: So you had to get the workers organized. You guys had–you came together, you got legal representation, you went to court. And now, three years later, you’ve finally gotten a victory. The judge has sealed off on the deal. What are the lessons for you and other workers here in Baltimore and around the country in getting justice from a corporation that’s done you wrong?
MCCRAY: What I learned is definitely you have to have patience for fighting a major power, ’cause, like I’ve have tried to tell people before, it’s not ESPN Zone who had let us go. The company was owned by Disney. And for me, it affected me in a major, major way. But what I tell people: we’ve got to be patient, got to research what’s right, got to take the time out and sacrifice. You know what I’m saying? ‘Cause I believe if–the more people who were involved to fight with it, I believe the quicker the case would have done. More people in the community would stand up to make things happen. And that’s just a big overall thing. In numbers, we are very strong. And if we stand together and not be divided by little, smaller, minor issues, we can make changes happen against companies like these.
NOOR: And so you’re also now part of United Workers. Talk a little bit about the work they do and what your future plans are and other businesses in the Inner Harbor, where workers kind of face some of the same conditions that you were facing?
MCCRAY: Since–on the onset, when the ESPN Zone had shut down, that very night when it leaked out on news, going–being on a break, I seen a couple of member for United Workers came up and showed us a way, gave us flyers so we could organize and fight this. And from that point, I got involved. And I learned a lot. I mean, this organization’s been around for a while. They won a major Camden Yards victory prior to me coming in 2007, for low-wage workers who cleaned the stadiums. And the same type of process, fighting, was going on at the Inner Harbor, of learning what’s going on with there and was going on, it shocked me to hear that restaurants like Phillips, Cheesecake Factory, and then meeting other workers who worked really hard and were being mistreated. We had our issues at ESPN Zone, but just the fact that, like, wow, this was really going–I said, if I worked here, this could have been a whole lot worse for me. You know.
And for me, personally, what it motivated me to do is to be active in the community to fight for low-wage workers’ rights, to let them know that your tax dollars are going into development that’s out there, that [incompr.] a right to speak up and have a say so [incompr.] be place in these areas which people are [incompr.] you know, real–using their rights that they are used for and all that, like I said, just being a member of United Workers. They just motivate me a lot.
And prior to me becoming United Workers, I was a political science major.
And this is just the background information and platform I would love to use in need when my goal/dreams of actually running for public office someday, ’cause in actuality, to make things really change, the only people stepping up, having people in office who really represents them and understands them to help make that change.
NOOR: Emanuel McCray, thank you so much for joining us and congratulations on your victory.
MCCRAY: Thank you for your time.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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