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Lockout's Effects Trickling Down

September 23, 2004|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Dominick Jaramillo stared out at the parking lot at the Arrowhead Pond. Inside, a trade show was in progress, one of those events that can help fill out an arena's schedule and requires only a skeleton event staff.

"Cost certainty" and "salary cap," the buzzwords hovering over the NHL lockout, mean nothing to Jaramillo, a parking director at the Pond. He looked out at the mostly empty parking lot and saw money for college flying away.

Whatever complex issues the NHL and players' union must resolve to end the lockout, he has his own take on it.

"The players and owners make millions of dollars and I get $7.75 per hour," said Jaramillio, an 18-year-old Rio Hondo Community College student. "That says all you need to know."

Jaramillo is not alone. Wherever there is an NHL franchise, there are nervous employees -- ushers, ticket takers, hot dog hawkers. A lockout that could last an entire season means a winter of discontent for arena workers, team employees and businesses near arenas.

The Kings were to have played the first of 43 games at Staples Center today, but it, and others, have been canceled. The Ducks were set to play the first of 45 games at the Pond on Friday.

"They don't play, I don't get paid," said Enrique Bosorquez, who works in housekeeping at Staples Center. "If they don't have the season, that's 40 days I don't work. That's going to be hard on me."

Everyone even remotely involved is bracing for the worst.

"If it lasts the whole year, we'll definitely take a hit," said Doug Thompson, general manager of J.T. Schmids, a restaurant across the street from the Pond. "Right now, we think they're going to start playing in January."

The ripple effects have gone beyond the Pond and Staples Center. Several teams have cut employees in marketing and ticket sales. The NHL office has laid off more than 100 employees, about half its staff.

Others remain optimistic, despite the lack of negotiations and increasing talk that the lockout will wipe out the season. Tim Ryan, the Pond's general manager, said he didn't "anticipate any layoffs among full-time employees." Mike Altieri, spokesman for the Kings and Staples Center, also said no layoffs were planned.

But part-time employees, who work events, will feel the pinch.

Pond workers are "anxious," according to an arena usher, who asked not to be identified. The arena's only other sports tenant is the Anaheim Storm, a professional lacrosse team.

The Pond had 10 events scheduled for October, according to arena spokeswoman Julie Hoekwater, but five were Duck games.

Ryan said the arena was on a "record pace for concerts" and would play host to several sporting events.

"Our goal is to book as close to 200 event nights as possible," he said. "I believe with our busy schedule, we can provide enough hours to get through any lengthy disruption."

Workers at Staples Center are a little better off. Besides the Kings, the arena is home to the Lakers and Clippers. There were 12 events scheduled at Staples Center in October, four of them King games.

"The only area affecting them is less events for them to work," Altieri said.

Programming may be difficult on short notice. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told teams to release arena days for 30 days beginning Sept. 15, the day he announced the lockout.

"It takes six to eight weeks to prepare and launch a concert," Ryan said. "If we have a 30-day window, we'll try to book short-term business, like filming commercials."

Such events may require only a skeleton staff.

At Staples Center, King games represent a significant amount of money for those paid by the hour.

Betty Dignam, otherwise retired, is a food vendor at Staples Center who began working at King games in 1967 at the Forum. She said she was OK financially but that many others needed every hour they could get.

"We have the Lakers and Clippers, but the Kings are the first sport that starts in the fall," Dignam said. "There are people here with families. Some people need to pay the rent. I don't know what they are going to do."

With no new negotiations scheduled, team employees are increasingly at risk.

"You hope that things will get worked out, but it looks like we're going to be gone for a while," Duck center Andy McDonald said. "There are a lot of people who are going to be hurt by this."

Layoffs began last spring. Phoenix cut 16 employees, Carolina 15, Dallas 12 and Nashville 11. Toronto, one of the NHL's most profitable teams, cut salaries of 25 employees by 33%.

Duck employees are bracing for cuts. During the 1994-95 lockout, the Ducks did not lay off employees -- the Walt Disney Co., which owns the team, transferred workers within the company until there was a settlement.

With the team up for sale, a similar plan is not likely this time. Disney officials did not return phone calls.

Al Coates, the Ducks' vice president of business operations, held a brief meeting with employees before the lockout, telling workers that there would be a reevaluation of jobs. According to a team official, Coates also said there would be only an allotted number of staff members during a lockout.

Kings' President Tim Leiweke said Friday, "A year from now, we are going to have to make tough decisions as to where we need to go."

Those decisions are coming much sooner for some.

"I need this job to buy schoolbooks and supplies," Jaramillio said. "If the Ducks are not going to play, I'll need to get a second job."

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