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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 27, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 17
Space Needle workers demand job security
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Space Needle workers demand job security

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Eight people were arrested in a sit-in outside the Space Needle's 50th anniversary celebration on April 21.

While the eight, who included Space Needle workers and union activists, blocked the Space Needle driveway, more than 100 supporters chanted 'U-N-I-T-E! We want job security!'

Among those arrested were Lynne Dodson, secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and Erik Van Rossum, principal officer of UNITE HERE Local 8, the union that represents Space Needle workers.

Atop the Space Needle, repainted in is original 'Galaxy Gold' color scheme, Seattle's elite celebrated the anniversary of the iconic monument, the symbol of the 1962 World's Fair.

Jeff Wright, chairman of the company that owns and operates the Needle and son of Space Needle builder Howard S. Wright, was joined by Mayor Mike McGinn and an assortment of political, financial, and cultural leaders to toast the Needle's first 50 years and look forward to another 50.

Each year the Space Needle attracts more than a million visitors, making it one of the top tourist destinations in the region. The Needle's Sky City Restaurant is the most patronized in Seattle, with dinners costing as much as $60 a plate.

Space Needle workers took a more skeptical view of the Needle's next 50 years, however. They have been working without a contract since May 31, 2011.

Negotiations with management have proceeded sporadically, union sources said. Last summer, Space Needle management gave in to union demands to include enhanced anti-discrimination language to protect LGBT workers, but to date they have refused to rule out subcontracting work to non-union companies.

In February, workers rejected a so-called 'last and final' proposal by management that failed to include job security provisions.

Spokespeople for Needle workers said that without guaranteed job security, other contract provisions - including the LGBT language - offer little protection for workers.

'I could be replaced any day with temporary workers making lower wages and no benefits,' said Space Needle server Sanjeet Thebe. 'Living under this stress has not been good - for me and for my family.'

Workers have said they will not accept a new contract unless the employer pledges not to contract work to outside non-union companies.

The two sides recently met with a federal mediator in an attempt to resolve the standoff, and a new mediation session is scheduled for May 22.

On April 18, the activist organization Puget Sound SAGE released a new report titled 'Our Pain, Their Gain: The Hidden Costs of Profitability in Seattle Hotels.'

While Seattle's hospitality industry is one of the cornerstones of the local economy, industry practices keep workers in poverty with low wages and sketchy health benefits that require public money to subsidize their health care costs as well as their food and housing, the report reveals.

In a speech before she was arrested, Dodson noted that 'when the Space Needle was built, a corporate CEO earned 24 times what an ordinary worker earned. Now it's 380 times. The Space Needle is a Seattle icon and we expect it to embody Seattle's values and to treat its employees accordingly.'

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