SBJ/Jan. 20-26, 2014/Super Bowl

Unionized workforce adds layer of administration, experience in NY/NJ region

Union boss Jimmy Hoffa may or may not be buried beneath 13 feet of concrete in the MetLife Stadium parking lot, as the urban legend goes — but what’s certain is that labor unions will be well-represented at next month’s Super Bowl, with the game and festivities surrounding it being staged in one of the most unionized regions of the country.

Union members in 2012 accounted for 23 percent of wage and salary workers in New York state, the highest rate in the nation, and 16 percent in New Jersey (eighth highest), according to the most recent data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, union members accounted for 11 percent of employed wage and salary workers in the United States.

What does that mean for this year’s game compared to past years? Several industry executives with experience running a Super Bowl said the presence of unions adds a layer of administrative work to the event-management process, but when the host stadium already has agreements in place, it should not have much effect beyond that.

That’s the case here. A spokesman for the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee said the organization has collective-bargaining agreements with several unions and that the NFL, as it stages the league’s premier event, “formally recognizes those relationships and has agreed to abide by them.”

Joe Villani, business manager at International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 632 in Paramus, N.J., will oversee the approximately 1,000 stagehands who will build and disassemble the numerous event areas that will take place at the Meadowlands complex throughout Super Bowl week. Those stagings include the halftime show at MetLife Stadium and NFL On Location, the NFL’s private hospitality area, which will be set up at the Izod Center.

Villani has been at the Meadowlands since 1983 and has worked international soccer matches, “Monday Night Football” games, massive stage setups for Pink Floyd and The Who, a couple dozen Bruce Springsteen shows, and a papal visit. With that kind of résumé, Villani shrugs off concerns of bad weather or big crowds for the Super Bowl.

“For us, it’s really no different than any other game,” he said. “A lot of people are making a much bigger deal out of the weather than we are. It snows here every winter, it rains here all year, and we never have problems.”

Villani said the work schedule for the Super Bowl is more like that of a concert than a sporting event. Crews will be putting in 10- to 12-hour days beginning this week and most likely will have around-the-clock work going on a few days before the game itself.

Among the several other unions working on both sides of the Hudson River, 200 members of the Paramus-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164 will be working on the stadium site to prevent a repeat of last year’s Super Bowl power outage in New Orleans.

Next year’s Super Bowl will be played in Glendale, Ariz., a state where its 5 percent union membership is one of the lowest in the country. Louisiana, site of last year’s game, had a union membership rate of 4.5 percent. Indiana, which hosted in 2012, was at 11 percent.

Said Jay Parry, CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, “There’s probably no greater juxtaposition for work environment than New York-New Jersey to Arizona.”

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