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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 12
Space Needle workers take fight to corporate offices
Section One
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Space Needle workers take fight to corporate offices

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Chants of 'What do we want? Raises! When do we want them? Now!' echoed off the Space Needle as 100 workers at the iconic landmark rallied with community supporters to demand that management negotiate a fair contract with them.

Space Needle workers have been working without a contract - and without raises - for more than 1,000 days, they said.

Ingersoll Gender Center founder and co-chair Marsha Botzer emceed a brief rally at the foot of the Space Needle.

'I've loved this building since I watched it being built,' she recalled. 'But now they've denied their workers a contract, fair wages, and basic respect.'

Erik Van Rossum, now president of UNITE HERE Local 8, the union representing the Space Needle's employees, echoed Botzer, remembering his own stint as a busser at the Space Needle 24 years ago.

'When I worked here, the Space Needle stood for something good,' he said. 'It stood for good wages, dignity, and respect.'

In the past three years, Van Rossum added, Space Needle management has abused its workers and tarnished its image.

The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), the federal agency charged with enforcing labor laws, backed up Van Rossum. In January, the agency found Space Needle management guilty of 64 separate unfair labor practices including retaliatory firing of union supporters and intimidation of employees.

Seattle City Council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant also spoke, as did Space Needle workers, including Veronica Chernichenko, who now supports her parents and 10 siblings because her father is too sick to work.

'It's heartbreaking to know that the struggles I'm facing wouldn't be such a struggle if we got the raises we deserve,' she said. 'Without the dedicated staff it has, the Space Needle would not be the icon that it is today.'

CEO refuses to meet with workers
When the rally concluded, the group marched two blocks to the Space Needle corporate headquarters, where Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson demanded to meet with CEO Ron Severt to present a petition from Space Needle workers and their allies.

Instead, Johnson was met by Space Needle PR director Dave Mandapat, who handed out a prepared statement announcing that management was not open to 'drop-in meetings' with their workers.

'Courageous and inspirational Space Needle workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 8, spoke up passionately for a raise at the Space Needle corporate headquarters yesterday after a rally in front of the Needle,' Johnson said in a subsequent statement.

'The intended audience was Space Needle CEO Ron Sevart. But of course, we were told he was unavailable, and so the petitions and letters from the community were given to the Director of Public Relations Dave Mandapat. If Mr. Mandapat was listening, he heard a group of workers who have great pride in the work they do for the Needle and workers who want and deserve to be respected for their skill and commitment they bring to the job every day, despite being undervalued.'

Licata letter
Two years ago the Seattle City Council sent a letter to Space Needle management urging them to settle the dispute with their workers through mediation, and Council member Nick Licata has written a second letter to Severt expressing disappointment at management's stalling tactics.

'I am disappointed to see that today, even in the face of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling in your employees' favor, you choose to extend the dispute,' Licata said in the March 18 letter.

'I believe pickets, demonstrations, and news reports that a prominent Seattle tourist attraction is fighting fair treatment of its workers...reflect poorly on the City of Seattle, and on your business...

'I encourage the Space Needle to drop its appeal of the NLRB ruling and to restore my and your employees' pride, faith and trust in the Space Needle Corporation.'

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