The Coast News Group
Cities Community Del Mar

KAABOO, union and fairgrounds work through concerns

DEL MAR — As KAABOO Del Mar organizers work to staff the three-day entertainment and arts festival that kicks off at the Del Mar Fairgrounds Sept. 15, the directors who oversee the state-owned facility went to bat for longtime food and beverage employees.

Meanwhile, a union representative acknowledged that worker concerns about possibly not accruing enough hours to qualify for benefits is an issue between the San Diego County Hotel and Food Service Workers’ Local 30 and Premier Food Services and parent company SMG Corp.

Last month a small group of workers attended a meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association to voice concerns that KAABOO was not using bartenders, wait staff and other hospitality-related workers from Premier, which has contracted with the fairgrounds for food and beverage services since 1990.

Premier was a co-concessionaire during the 2015 inaugural event and sole provider last year.

Julie Coleman, KAABOO’s director of community relations, said in 2016 Premier was unable to staff many of the positions and hundreds were filled at the last minute, resulting in long lines and complaints.

This year KAABOO, as it is allowed to do, bought out the Premier contract and hired Spectrum Staffing Services instead.

While the agreement requires KAABOO to give Premier employees first rights to those jobs, union members said because they won’t be working for Premier, those hours will not count under the union contract, which could affect their ability to qualify for health benefits.

Coleman reiterated KAABOO’s commitment to Premier employees at the Aug. 8 22nd DAA meeting, saying four job fairs, including two exclusively for Premier employees, have been held for all food and beverage positons.

She said no one has been offered or denied employment yet. That should happen within the next few weeks.

“Spectrum’s going to great lengths to try and accommodate this unique situation,” she said. “They’ve made a lot of efforts to try and recruit and staff Premier employees. And they’ve made a lot of efforts to make sure that we abide by that first refusal requirement.

“Union benefits, including health insurance to union staff, (is) a decision totally up to Premier,” Coleman added. “It doesn’t have a lot to do with KAABOO. We paid the $150,000 buyout and our hope was that that would address situations like this.”

Charles Yip, a union field representative, said Premier has more than enough union employees to staff the event. He said last year’s problems were the result of the technology KAABOO used for placing orders.

He said Premier has a system it uses for all other fairgrounds events, but KAABOO chose to install and use its own, which failed to work properly and caused slowdowns.

Joshua Goodman, a KAABOO spokesman, disagreed.

“I can confirm that Premier was understaffed last year,” he said. “The point of sale system was a separate issue.”

Additionally, Yip said workers have concerns about credit card tips being pooled and low wages.

Coleman said bartenders will be paid $11 an hour and other workers will receive $10.50. Yip said most union bartenders get $11 an hour but some are paid up to $13, while nontipped workers generally make $13.

“Any (non-management) bar staff will get an even share of credit card tips based on how many hours they worked,” Goodman said.

Union members must work 900 hours annually to qualify for benefits. Yip said the union asked Premier and SMG to consider adding KAABOO hours to employees who may come up slightly short at the end of the year, although there is no obligation to do so.

“We’re not asking them to count them all,” Yip said. “They said, ‘Let’s see what happens at the end of the year.’”

“I have tremendous concern for the employees,” 22nd DAA Director Fred Schenk said to Coleman at the meeting. “You’re here for four days. The employees are here for 361 days. I really want to get some assurance going forward that there’s going to be every effort made.

“I think these employees are the lifeblood of what makes this place successful,” he added. “And I want to see not just offers of $150,000 to the employer. I really want to see some commitment to … make sure that those men and women who work here day in and day out are going to be respected and thanked for their service. I don’t see that right now.”

“We’d love to see hundreds of applications by Premier staff,” Coleman said. “We’d love to employ them. I agree the employees are the people that make it happen, and we’d love to have them on our team.”

Board members were also bothered that they only recently heard there were issues last year.

“It surprised me to find out nine months after the event that there were any problems whatsoever involving Premier,” Richard Valdez said. “To hear that you had some complaints about Premier is something that I would have liked to have heard from day one so we could have addressed that.”

“We absolutely understand where the 22nd DAA board is coming from, and we share their commitment to the community,” Goodman said. “That’s why we’re proud to be hiring bartenders, bar backs and food service workers, filling hundreds of local jobs that pay at or above union wages.

“I’m not sure where this misunderstanding comes from,” he added. “Applications are still being accepted for all food service positions.”

Bartenders, servers and bar backs can visit, which has been updated, to apply. They and other workers can email applications to [email protected]

“We need just an ongoing conversation with the board about what’s working, what’s not working,” Valdez said. “(Premier is) really important to us, just as you are important to us. … Going forward, more communication would be appreciated.”

To that end, Director Stephen Shewmaker recommended creating an ad hoc committee to work with festival organizers throughout the year.

KAABOO has a multiyear contract with the fairgrounds and there has been talk the creators would like to expand the current daily attendance cap of 40,000.