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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 06
Space Needle violated workers' rights, NLRB says
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Space Needle violated workers' rights, NLRB says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Embattled Space Needle workers won a significant victory when a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled on January 30 that the Needle's management was guilty of several unfair labor practices.

Workers first charged the Space Needle with violating their rights to form a union and bargain with their employer in 2013. In 2014 an administrative law judge ruled in their favor, but Space Needle management appealed.

The NLRB is the federal agency that monitors compliance with U.S. labor law, and acts as the appellate body for decisions of administrative law judges.

Space Needle workers have been working without a contract - and fighting their employer to negotiate a fair agreement - since 2011.

NLRB chairman Mark Gaston Pearce joined members Kent Y. Hirozawa and Harry I. Johnson III in finding that the Needle's owners violated federal labor law through a number of measures aimed at discouraging workers from supporting or participating in union activities.

The NLRB found, for example, that Space Needle management distributed letters to employees encouraging them to resign from the union; that it polled employees about their attitudes toward the union; and that management made coercive statements to workers.

Space Needle management also failed to recall two pro-union employees, the NLRB said, and reneged on a prior written agreement with the union to resume payroll-based deduction of Needle employees' union dues.

Payroll deduction of union dues - also known as 'check-off' - is a common agreement between employers and unions. Unions typically prefer this method of payment because it is automatic, and allows them to avoid sending staff around to collect dues from each member every month.

The NLRB then ordered the Space Needle to desist from anti-union interference in the future, return the two employees to work with back pay, and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back dues owed to the union representing Space Needle workers, UNITE HERE Local 8.

'What is most important is that the workers who lost their jobs two years ago get back to work and that the coercion and the unfair treatment of workers stops,' said Erik Van Rossum, president of UNITE HERE Local 8. 'Seattle is a place of deeply-held values and intense pride, and the symbol of our city shouldn't be associated with this kind of illegal behavior.'

Van Rossum himself is a former Space Needle employee.

'Together, we have fought back against this trampling of workers' rights, 'said SkyCity restaurant server Julia Dube, one of two workers who will return to the Space Needle if the ruling stands.

'Today is a tremendous day for Seattle workers, and especially those at the Space Needle.'

UNITE HERE Local 8 represents nearly 5,000 workers in hospitality and food service throughout Washington and Oregon, including SkyCity restaurant employees, banquet servers, elevator operators, greeters, and other workers at the Space Needle.

The NLRB's decision may be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals but the Space Needle has not yet said whether it will do so.

Space Needle owner Howard S. Wright III recently served as co-chair of the Economic Inequality Advisory Committee which drafted the city's new minimum wage ordinance, but Needle employees say they have received just one raise in the last four and a half years - an increase of $0.35 an hour two years ago.

During the George W. Bush administration, the NLRB languished with only two members because the president refused to appoint new members to fill vacancies. Senate Republicans blocked Obama appointments until 2013, when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forced confirmation votes on the pending nominees.

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