Obamacare to Blame for Cubs' 'TarpGate'? Either Way, 'Embarrassing'

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 26, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last week, Major League Baseball had its first protest upheld in more than two decades. The San Francisco Giants protested a called game, which the Chicago Cubs won 2-0 after five innings of play, thanks to a rain-out due to the Cubs' grounds crew's inability to pull the tarp over the field in time. (The Giants still lost, 2-1, when the rest of the game was made up.)

To television viewers, and the hometown Cubs fans who booed the grounds crew, it appeared that they were short-handed. And despite Major League Baseball itself stating that the tarp malfunction was caused by "the failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use," an alternate cause soon emerged after a local paper spoke with club insiders: Obamacare.

Cubs Dodging ACA Coverage?

The Chicago Sun-Times presents the Affordable Care Act Cubs Conspiracy Theory:

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers -- including much of the grounds crew -- under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

That's the full-time worker definition under "Obamacare," which requires employer-provided healthcare benefits for "big businesses" such as a major league team.

The story goes on to cite multiple sources, inside and outside the organization, who mocked the incident, calling the team "cheap" and labeling the incident "embarrassing."

The team did little to dispel the rumor initially, agreeing that the organization had made changes and that they were "continuing to evaluate inefficiencies."

"We're no different than any organization trying to gain efficiencies. However, our efforts to manage costs had nothing to do with the episode on Tuesday night, " team spokesman Julian Green stated.

The team later issued a more strongly worded denial, stating that the budget for grounds maintenance had not been cut and that any cuts that have happened are in response to the team's poor attendance numbers, not Obamacare. A local union representative from SEIU Local 1 confirmed to ESPN that cuts had been made, but said that it had more to do with economics than healthcare.

Not Worth the Savings

Whether or not the Cubs' staff cuts were made to avoid healthcare requirements, this was quite the embarrassing episode. The Cubs, as one of the highest-revenue teams in the league, were probably being penny wise and pound foolish, regardless of the motivation for cutting back hours.

But what about your business? Can or should you either cut staff, or cut hours, in order to fall under the minimums required to trigger Obamacare coverage requirements? The only downside for the Cubs was public embarrassment, something that seems far less likely for most businesses.

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