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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 15, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 11
Space Needle labor dispute heats up
Section One
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Space Needle labor dispute heats up

Ongoing flying Rainbow Flag fracas is just one part of a larger conflict

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The long-simmering dispute between the Space Needle, the iconic symbol of Seattle, and its nearly 200 employees is heating up. Some 100 people picketed the Needle on March 14 in support of the landmark's workers.

Although the Space Needle may seem like a public institution, it has always been privately owned by the Wright family, whose construction company built it for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962.

The family's conservative political commitments have not always fit in with Seattle's cherished progressive image. Space Needle Corporation chair Jeff Wright was a major donor to Republican Rob McKenna's gubernatorial campaign. And last June, Space Needle management attracted negative publicity when they flatly refused to fly the LGBT Rainbow Flag from the flagpole atop the landmark.

INTIMIDATION ALLEGED
According to UNITE HERE Local 8, the union which represents Space Needle employees, its members have been working for almost two years under terms of an expired contract while management has engaged in a series of maneuvers designed to intimidate workers.

'The company had ramped up their anti-union campaign over the last two years when they fired and suspended union activists, denied overtime pay to its workers, created dangerous workloads for its kitchen staff, and racked up several Unfair Labor Practice charges pending with the federal government,' the union said in a statement.

According to UNITE HERE, the protracted negotiations have yielded tentative agreements on a number of points demanded by the union, including enhanced nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers.

The only remaining sticking point in negotiations is that Space Needle management refuses to guarantee job security to UNITE HERE members by promising not to contract work out to nonunion companies.

SECURITY MATTERS
'The Space Needle is currently demanding that the City Council protect views of the Needle from South Lake Union [high-rises],' said union president Erik Van Rossum, referring to new development guidelines the Wright family has proposed.

'They want a sense of security from the City, and yet they have not given their workers any security. I would like to have a view of a Seattle landmark that respects Seattle workers.'

The Space Needle denies charges of unfair labor practices and says that in the past it has contracted out work only twice - both times informing the union in advance.

Space Needle employees say that they still fear for their jobs if the company does not agree to an explicit no-subcontracting pledge.

'We're not asking for the moon,' Space Needle cook Crystal Doll said. 'All we're asking for is some sense of job security.'

FEARS LOSING HOME
Noting that her union job had provided the money necessary to buy her first home, she added that she was worried she might not be able to keep making the mortgage payments if her position was subcontracted to another company.

'I don't want to have to constantly worry that I might be fired or laid off just because my manager found somebody willing to work for less money,' Doll said. 'I've been part of the Space Needle family for the last six years, and it's time for them to finally treat us like part of the family.'

In addition to UNITE HERE members, members of several local unions and labor organizations participated in the March 14 picket, including the Washington State Labor Council, UFCW 21, Teamsters 117, Machinists 751, SEIU 775, Pride At Work, Working Washington, and Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action.

UNION WORKERS BUILT IT
Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson, noting that the Space Needle had been built by union labor, offered UNITE HERE 'the solidarity and support of more than 400,000 union workers in this state.'

'The workers like Crystal are what make this iconic landmark important,' Johnson added, 'and it's disappointing to see this landmark treat its workers unfairly. We in the labor community will not stand for it.'

Space Needle management and UNITE HERE have agreed to another round of negotiations, this time with a federal mediator, scheduled to begin March 28.

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