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Ownership of 76ers, Devils reverses coronavirus pay cuts for team employees

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid said Tuesday that he is donating $500,000 to coronavirus relief efforts. Photo by Rhona Wise/EPA-EFE
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid said Tuesday that he is donating $500,000 to coronavirus relief efforts. Photo by Rhona Wise/EPA-EFE

March 24 (UPI) -- Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment -- the group that owns the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils -- reversed course and will pay team employees their full salaries amid the temporary shutdowns of the NBA and NHL because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After receiving public backlash and pushback from within the organizations, the ownership group held a conference call Tuesday afternoon and backed off on a plan that would have subjected full-time team employees to temporary pay reductions.

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"Our commitment has been to do our best to keep all of our employees working through this very difficult situation," Josh Harris, founder of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, said in a statement. "... After listening to our staff and players, it's clear that was the wrong decision. We have reversed it and will be paying these employees their full salaries.

"This is an extraordinary time in our world -- unlike any most of us have ever lived through before -- and ordinary business decisions are not enough to meet the moment. To our staff and fans, I apologize for getting this wrong."

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Before rolling back the plan, the ownership group notified salaried staff members that full-time employees are subject to pay cuts up to 20 percent as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

"As we navigate this evolving COVID-19 environment, we are mindful of the long-term impact the suspension of live events and games will have on our organization and industry," Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment CEO Scott O'Neil said in a statement Monday.

"To ensure we can continue to support and operate our businesses during these uncertain times without reducing our workforce, we are asking our full-time, salaried employees to temporarily reduce their pay by up to 20 percent and move to a four-day week."

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Sources told the New York Times and ESPN that the temporary salary reductions were for employees who earn more than $50,000 per year. The salary reductions were to start April 15 and run through the end of June.

Sources told the Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer that 76ers general manager Elton Brand, 76ers president of business operations Chris Heck and Devils president Jake Reynolds previously agreed to salary reductions.

The ownership group said the measures were taken to avoid layoffs and keep full benefits for the company's 1,500 employees.

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The NBA plans to give players full salary payments on April 1. NBA and NHL athletes were exempt from the owners' proposed pay reductions because both leagues have collectively bargained labor agreements.

Sources told ESPN and The Athletic on Tuesday that 76ers center Joel Embiid was pledging $500,000 toward coronavirus medical relief efforts. He also committed to helping team employees who were going to be impacted by the salary reductions.

Embiid tweeted his approval of the ownership group's reversal of the plan.

The NBA and NHL seasons were indefinitely suspended on March 11 and 12, respectively, in response to the pandemic.

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