The Calgary Flames have finally done the right thing, but don't expect anyone to be giving them too much credit for doing so at this point.
The Flames faced some pretty heavy backlash this week when they made the announcement that they would NOT be taking care of their arena employees during the forced suspension of the 2019 - 2020 National Hockey League regular season, a stoppage in play that all teams have been forced into as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The statement from the Flames was in stark contrast to the messaging that had been put forward by other team around the league, teams that had made it clear they would be standing by their employees moving forward.
From the Flames initial announcement:
“Unless notified by your supervisor, all scheduled shifts are cancelled. CSEC will pay for your March 12, 2020 shift if you were scheduled to work as the notice of cancellation was less than the 24 hours required by Alberta Employment Standards. Any shifts on March 13, 2020 and beyond must be pre-approved by your supervisor,” said the Flames via an email earlier this week.
“Alberta Employment Standards requires that employers provide 24 hours’ notice for cancellation of scheduled shifts. CSEC will pay employees where the notification of cancellation was less than 24 hours. No payment will be made for shifts cancelled with greater than 24 hours’ notice.”
That prompted an incredibly negative response from their fans and understandably so consider the team had just secured $300 million in public money for a new arena, public money that was provided for in part by the taxes of employees like their arena staff. One fan however decided he would take a different approach and quickly started a GoFundMe campaign in order to raise money for those left high and dry by the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation. That fan, Raymond Lau, set a modest goal of $10,000 but that would quickly be eclipsed.
Here was Raymond's statement on the GoFundMe page:
As a long time Calgary Flames season ticket holder and former Saddledome hourly employee myself, I am very disappointed in Calgary Sports and Entertainment's (CSEC) decision to not pay hourly and event employees for cancelled shifts as a result of the season being paused due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
It is troublesome to see these individuals left in the cold during these difficult times. Lots of teams and players in the NHL and other sports leagues have stepped up to take care of their staff and community. It's the right thing to do. Arena employees are as much a part of our beloved Flames as the players themselves.
Let’s come together as a community and show them that we won’t leave anyone behind. Please join me in helping raise funds to help our fellow Calgarians through this period of adversity.
Regardless of what you think of Raymond's statement there was no question it struck a chord right where it counted, and several players from the Flames organization quickly threw their support behind his GoFundMe campaign. Players like Milan Lucic, Zac Rinaldo, Mark Giordano and Sam Bennett all donated thousands of dollars to his cause, truly putting the Flames ownership group to shame with their generosity. That shame appears to have hit home for the Flames ownership group and today they released a new statement regarding the situation in question.
From the Flames official website:
Subsequent to the release of our previous communication, we have obtained a number of additional pieces of information including communicating directly with many part-time employees. This has prompted us to reach out to you today and advise that we will now be adopting an income bridge support program for qualifying employees.
This program will provide part time employees who are affected by this temporary halt in our operations and are applying for and are eligible to receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits to receive a top up payment from CSEC, which will provide an overall benefit of up to 95% of your regular average insurable earnings (which is the maximum allowable by Service Canada), to the conclusion of the Flames regular season. If you are not eligible to receive EI benefits due to not working sufficient hours you will receive the equivalent CSEC top up portion.
The Flames can try and dress it up as nice as they would like at this point but everyone knows what is really going on here. The backlash from their own fan as well as the reaction from their players left them with very little choice if they wanted to save face, but from a public relations perspective it may have been too little too late. It is wonderful that the employees will now be paid, but here is a sample of some of the reactions to this announcement:
No doubt this is a moment that the employees who were at the center of this won't be forgetting anytime soon.