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Friendly Fenway

By Steve Bailey
Globe Columnist / July 26, 2006
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Will Manny be the next to be fingerprinted at Friendly Fenway?

Don't count on it -- it's not the way the world works. But at the most expensive ballpark in America -- the home of the $300 seat and the $6.50 beer -- they are looking to crack down on fraud, waste, and abuse. And as usual when corporate America decides to do something about waste, it starts at the bottom, not the top.

Beginning today, Aramark Corp., the giant Philadelphia concessionaire that sells that overpriced beer, is requiring its Fenway employees to be fingerprinted. ``Please stop by on Wednesday, July 26, 2006, or Thursday July 27, 2006, between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to pick up your paycheck and your new ID badge & to get fingerprinted," management said in a memo to employees. ``New ID badge & fingerprinting is part of the new time clock system and it is a condition of employment."

Aramark is in a dozen Major League Baseball stadiums; it uses the fingerprinting system at Shea Stadium and now at Fenway. ``There wasn't one single incident" at Fenway, a company spokesman told me, ``just a trend you will start to see across the industry and outside the industry." Technically, Aramark says it takes not a fingerprint but a ``measurement of a fingerprint."

Fenway is in the forefront locally. The New England Patriots, which operates its own concessions, does not fingerprint employees. Neither does Delaware North Cos. at the TD Banknorth Garden. Joe O'Donnell, chief executive of the Boston Culinary Group, which operates in 35 states, does not either. ``We don't use fingerprinting or cameras. We feel it sends the wrong message of trust to our employees," says O'Donnell, who has no love for Aramark.

All this is part of a profound corporate expansion of Big Brother in the workplace -- the so-called biometric technology revolution that uses everything from fingerprinting to retinal scans to facial recognition to keep tabs on a company's suspects, otherwise known as employees. In particular, Aramark thinks its new Fenway time-clock system will put an end to ``buddy punching" -- the practice of having a co-worker punch in for you.

As many as 800 people work the concessions on any given night at Fenway. Says one long time vendor about being fingerprinted: ``This is incredibly invasive for a pretty menial job. This is not a defense contractor. These people are making hot dogs."

Once upon a time, working the Fenway games was a fun part-time gig. But as the Red Sox have upgraded the fan experience -- and the price tag -- Aramark has downgraded the jobs. Almost anyone can walk up to Fenway and get a job on the spot.

Starting pay: Not much over minimum wage plus tips, which are officially prohibited but widely tolerated. Listed in the employee handbook as a violation that may result in immediate termination: ``Solicitation of tips (or any form of gratuity solicitation) from our guests and customers. This includes the use of tip cups." Servers and bartenders, on the other hand, are expected to ``up-sell" customers ``on a daily basis."

Aramark chief executive Joseph Neubauer knows how to make money. Neubauer, a Tufts graduate whose estimated wealth of $675 million puts him on the Forbes list of richest Americans, led a leverage d buy out of the company in 1984 and took it public in 2001. Now he is reversing the process, seeking to take the company private in a $5.8 billion bid that includes Thomas H. Lee Partners in Boston. How are you going to make the numbers work with all that ``buddy punching" going on at Fenway?

The Red Sox don't fingerprint employees. Imagine the savings, though, if Manny had to actually punch out every time he decided to take an early slide in the eighth?

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at bailey@globe.com or at 617-929-2902.

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