Joel Embiid, public pressure forces 76ers to rethink cutting wages

Due to public pressure and Joel Embiid’s generosity, the Philadelphia 76ers have decided not to temporarily cut at-will employees’ salaries after all.

Novel coronavirus has shut down most of the world, with the sports industry feeling the impact on a very public stage. When the NBA made the responsible decision to suspend its season, many worried about what would become of the part-time arena employees who depended on those games being played to provide wages.

Most organizations and some of their players have stepped up to compensate those workers for the money they’d be losing, but as this quarantine period continues, teams are still looking for ways to mitigate their financial losses, and not even full-time employees appear to be safe.

Early Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Philadelphia 76ers were giving members of their coaching staff and front office on contracts until Thursday to agree to a salary reduction of 20 percent. Per Woj, this applied to only “at-will” employees (over $50,000 a year in salary), and those under contract needed to “volunteer” to do it.

It’s not uncommon for businesses to brace for the economic hardships this pandemic will undoubtedly bring, especially in the sports, where everything will be at a standstill for months and the losses will be in the millions. It won’t be long before budget cuts and possibly even layoffs are discussed for many organizations, both in and out of the sports industry.

However, because these franchise are on the frontlines, and because we’re lacking in any other discernible sports news these days, this kind of move wasn’t going to fly without catching a ton of public scrutiny. And that’s exactly what happened to the Sixers as Twitter had a field day with an NBA owner trying to get some of his employees to “volunteer” for a 20 percent salary reduction.

At that point, the face of the franchise decided to step up, as quite a few players have done to help part-time employees during their time of need, as well as coronavirus relief efforts in general. When The Athletic‘s Shams Charania reported that Joel Embiid would be donating $500,000 to coronavirus relief and Sixers workers accepting a temporary pay cut, that put even more pressure on owner Josh Harris to do the right thing.

About two hours after it became public knowledge that The Process was putting up half a million dollars of his own money, Wojnarowski reported that the Sixers had decided to change course.

In a statement, Harris — who is worth an estimated $3.7 billion — apologized for getting this one wrong, explaining the cuts were to help compensate over 1,500 hourly workers while also acknowledging this was the incorrect way to go about it.

Embiid, NBA fans and part-owner Michael Rubin (who was reportedly outraged over the team considering these wage cuts) should feel good about the power of public shame in getting the 76ers to make things right.

It’s only a matter of time before we see something like this again, but for the time being, it sets a strong precedent over what happens when NBA teams owned by billionaires start trying to “do the right thing” by taking the money out of anyone’s paycheck but their own.