For starters, I’d like to point out that Dave Zirin bears no responsibility for the unfortunate headline above. The closure of Disney’s ESPN Zone restaurants was already noted in this space some months ago, however, it’s The Nation’s Zirin who points out the “human collateral” involved.
ESPN’s mother-ship, the Walt Disney Company, made the decision to engage in some creative destruction and the ESPN Zones were just part of the fat that was trimmed. This included the very popular locale in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. But there was one problem with this hard-nosed business decision: the 150 workers in Baltimore, shocked that their high-traffic restaurant closed, were told with less than a week’s notice. Federal law, according to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires sixty days of notice and severance. Instead, the workers at ESPN Zone were given the bum’s rush. Even worse, many didn’t hear the wrenching news through their boss. Instead, many found out their jobs were yesterday’s news in the Baltimore Sun or even on Facebook.
Now the workers are fighting back and fighting mad. On Monday, October 25, the former employee filed a class action lawsuit against ESPN’s parent company, Disney, to get the Mouse to comply with the penalty associated with violating federal labor law. The penalty for violating the WARN Act requires that Disney pay workers for sixty days at the rate of their last paycheck. The severance that Disney offered, which is shameful, is separate from this penalty. Their attorney, Andrew D. Freeman said, “Disney’s severance payments were inadequate as a matter of law and as a matter of human decency.” The lawsuit also shines a spotlight on the most vulnerable people in today’s economy: people who live day in and day out working non-union, service industry jobs that can be here today and gone tomorrow.