Senators still mum on paying part-time arena staff amid COVID-19 shutdown

The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets eventually backtracked.

The Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, wound up following the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks in establishing programs to help part-time arena workers affected by the NHL shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ottawa Senators — at least publicly — have yet to say or do anything.

While Canada’s other NHL six teams have laid out varying plans to assist casual staff as the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, the Senators remain silent on an issue that garnered significant social media interest over the weekend.

A team spokesperson said Friday that a question from The Canadian Press on the subject would be forwarded to the appropriate department. A response to a subsequent message from CP sent Monday stated that any information would be provided “as soon as we have it.”

The Senators had three more home games scheduled at the Canadian Tire Centre in March to go along with another in April. Two concerts have been cancelled or postponed, while a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters was also scrubbed.

The Flames and Jets initially said they wouldn’t be paying part-time employees during the unprecedented hiatus, but eventually changed their respective tunes Sunday in the wake of heavy public criticism.

Flames players Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett and Zac Rinaldo, along with the wives of TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano, all contributed to an online fund set up by a former Scotiabank Saddledome worker before the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the team and operates the arena, stepped up with what it called an “income bridge support program for qualifying employees.”

The Jets received the most heat initially following Truth North Sports & Entertainment executive chairman Mark Chipman’s comments last week that casual workers were out of luck during the global pandemic.

“Those people are on part-time agreements,” Chipman said Thursday. “They work when we work. So, regrettably, to the extent that we’re not putting on shows and games, those people obviously would not have a call to work.”

The Jets, who also own the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, doubled-down on Chipman’s comments in a letter sent Saturday to part-time event staff at Bell MTS Place, but relented 24 hours later with a subsequent correspondence that stated all employees impacted would be paid in full until the end of March.

Chipman concluded Sunday’s email by adding Truth North “sincerely apologizes for any concern that our original position may have caused.”

The Canadiens and Oilers laid out their plans Saturday following announcements from the Leafs — under the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment banner with the NBA’s Raptors and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC — and the Canucks on Friday.

The Leafs, Raptors, TFC, MLB’s Blue Jays and the CFL’s Argonauts have also created the “Team Toronto Fund” designed to further assist arena, stadium and support staff should they be in need of extra financial assistance due to the outbreak.

A number of professional teams south of the border have set up similar programs, with some NBA stars — including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson and Kevin Love — putting up their own money.

The NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS and CFL, along with the AHL and other professional sports organizations, have halted operations amid the widening crisis that’s drastically altered daily life across North America and killed more than 6,500 people worldwide.

The Centers for Disease Control in the United States recommended Sunday that organizers cancel or postpone in-person events consisting of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, meaning that in the best-case scenario leagues might be able to return to action is mid-May.

Canada, meanwhile, announced Monday it is closing its borders to most foreign nationals except Americans, and barring anyone, including Canadian citizens, with coronavirus symptoms from boarding flights to this country, which now has close to 400 confirmed cases.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the risk to the general population is low.

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But for some, including those 65 years of age and over, those with compromised immune systems or those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness, so far fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.

While the Senators have yet to indicate what, if anything, they and owner Eugene Melnyk plan to do for part-time arena employees, the same can’t be said for their sporting neighbours in the nation’s capital.

Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the CFL’s Redblacks and 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, said it will pay workers for three postponed OHL games and any other events that were scheduled at TD Place up until at least March 27.

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