The Cubs and…Obamacare?

A caution – we haven’t yet heard a complete account from the Cubs. But the story that has been making the rounds is that the fiasco at Wrigley Field Tuesday night – when an apparently understaffed grounds crew contributed to the washing out of a game between the Giants and the Cubs and resulted in the first successful game protest in three decades – resulted from the decision of Cubs management to cut back on hours to avoid paying health insurance under Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act requires companies with 50 or more employees to either provide health insurance to full-time workers, as defined by the law, or pay a fine. This is the so-called employer mandate. It was supposed to be operative in 2014, but under intense lobbying from businesses and protests from Republicans in Congress, President Obama delayed the mandate until next year (if you’re following such matters, the lawsuit that Republicans recently filed against Obama for abuse of his authority derives from this decision. And yes, to repeat, it’s a decision Republicans *wanted* Obama to take).

Because some crew members had been sent home early to keep their hours down, when the rains came, the remaining staff struggled to get the tarp down in time to prevent the soaking of the infield. The game was called with the Cubs ahead and they were originally declared the winners. But the Giants protested because, they argued, it was the incompetence of the Cubs that resulted in the field being unplayable. MLB, for the first time since 1986, upheld the protest. The Cubs did end up winning when the game was resumed two days later.

Forbes rates the Cubs as the fourth most valuable franchise in MLB, behind the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox and as the most profitable last year. The Cubs are negotiating new TV contracts now and it’s estimated that those will be worth in excess of $200 million a year to the organization (again, that’s just their own television deals). Thomas Ricketts is the Cubs owner and his family’s worth is estimated at one billion dollars. He’s the son of the founder of Ameritrade.

The calculations are a little less straightforward than this, but the fine for not paying health insurance, once the mandate kicks on, is between $2000 and $3000 a year. Even if we’re talking about 100 employees (an over-estimate), the mandate would cost them $200,000 to $300,000 a year, assuming they had maintained their previous hours.

This Deadspin account includes video of the hapless effort to cover the field. It also notes that the decision to cut back hours may not have been specifically triggered by Obamacare but, rather, by general cost-cutting. Regardless of the cause of the cost-cutting, this strikes me as another nice encapsulation of America, circa 2014.

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