- Nancy (not her real name) is 57 years old and works as an usher at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
- As stadiums reopened at limited capacity Tuesday, she’s worried about social distancing and masking.
- She’s immunocompromised, and a big part of her job involves very hands-on interaction with guests.
- This is her story, as told to freelance writer Meira Gebel.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Nancy (not her real name) is 57 years old and works as an usher at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She spoke anonymously out of concern for losing her position. Her identity has been verified by Insider.
I started working at Madison Square Garden as an usher shortly after I retired four years ago. I’ve been a huge New York Rangers fan ever since I moved to the city several decades ago and held season tickets for many years. It’s been my dream job.
As an usher, it’s my job to take and scan tickets, assist guests, help them find their seats, make accommodations for people with disabilities, make sure the aisles are clear during events like sports games and concerts, and give directions to the restrooms and concession stands.
We also have the responsibility to maintain the crowd and call security if any fights break out or people start acting rowdy, which happens often at Madison Square Garden.
I haven’t worked a shift since March 13 when the pandemic shuttered event spaces. Thursday will be my first day back in nearly a year.
Last spring, we had no idea what was going on and what we were going to do about the coronavirus as it started to spread across the country. We were supposed to host a college basketball game at the arena on March 13, but that was cancelled, and then the next day everything shuttered.
I thought that we would just be out for two weeks, but then of course it ended up being an entire year. We didn’t have a lot of warning. We were there one day, and then we weren’t.
We’re now allowed to host fans at 10% capacity, so that means we’re letting in a maximum of 2,000 people for each event, not including employees. Our first game is a Knicks game on Tuesday, and I’m working the second Knicks game on Thursday.
I’m lucky because I’m retired and have a pension. I’m immunocompromised, so I’ve spent the majority of my time inside.
For a few weeks, Madison Square Garden tried to pay us our average salaries while we were out of work, but that ended up being too much and the company couldn’t do it anymore. We were told to file for unemployment.
Not working, however, has still put a strain on me financially, as I’m not making what I was before on unemployment.
Madison Square Garden ushers are paid based on how many events they work per week, and before COVID-19, I was working six to seven events a week. After each event, the minimum I took home was $US85 ($108), plus more if the event went into overtime, so every week I was bringing in about $US600 ($760). For a while, my unemployment was about $US600 ($760), but then dropped to $US400 ($507) between state and federal.
Even though Madison Square Garden is open now, I’ll only be working two to three events per week, and I don’t think it will be open after basketball and hockey season, as the summer can be very slow.
When I heard Governor Andrew Cuomo announced stadiums could reopen on February 23, I was shocked and nervous.
Throughout the pandemic, I feel as though Gov. Cuomo has been so careful with everything regarding reopening the state, but then all of a sudden he announces indoor stadiums and arenas could host fans and I immediately didn’t feel safe.
I’m scheduled to get my first shot of the vaccine before I go back to work, but I won’t have full protection until two weeks after my second dose. I believe most of my coworkers are eager to get the vaccine, too. And I expect New York City will open up vaccinations for stadium and venue workers just as it has for restaurant workers in the near future.
I feel as though management at Madison Square Garden was also blindsided by the announcement because nobody thought it would be happening this quickly. Management sent out an email shortly after the announcement asking who would like to come back to work, and I emailed back and received a call to attend an in-person training.
I attended training the next day, Friday, where we were told about new procedures and how to maintain appropriate social distancing with customers.
At the training, some of my coworkers balked at the mask mandate and some even took their masks off when management was not around. That made me nervous.
I think it’s going to be impossible to maintain social distancing.
Even though it’s indoors, the ventilation is still good. But I stand in a three-foot-wide area where I check customer’s tickets, and even though all ticketing will be digital, most of the time customers hand me their phones to find their seat numbers for them, making it impossible to maintain a distance.
As someone who’s also very hands on, I think it will be hard for me not to run over and help older people up the stairs. We were also told if we see someone not wearing a mask to “play it by ear” and call security if we didn’t want to go over and tell them.
Even with limited capacity, I’m worried fans won’t respect social distancing guidelines and follow the mask mandate.
Before every event, ushers and employees have to get a rapid COVID-19 test, and customers have to show a negative PCR test from the past 72 hours before they can enter the arena as well as complete a health survey.
But the fact of the matter is, that all goes out the window once they get into the arena.
Madison Square Garden plans on selling canned beer and concession goods, so people are allowed to take off their masks to eat and drink. What I’m scared of is when people start drinking and forget to put their masks back on.
There’s a huge part of me that’s excited to get back to work. I’ve missed the job so bad and being around people. I just wish it felt safer.
I would like to say to the fans: Please be respectful to us – try not to put us in a bad situation.
Also, behave and abide by the social distancing requirements. Don’t make me come and yell at you about your mask. I don’t want to have to do that, because I’m the first one who would love to sit there with you and watch the game.
Like anything, I think there will ultimately be some hiccups and a learning curve as we start to try and get back to normal.
In an emailed statement to Insider, Rich Claffey, Madison Square Garden’s entertainment executive vice president of venue management, said, “Our Employees are looking forward to returning to Madison Square Garden to do what they do best – provide our passionate fans with a world-class experience. We are taking our commitment to health and safety extremely seriously, with training and protocols that will keep not only our fans but also our employees safe, so everyone can enjoy this important first step back to The Garden and New York City.”