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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 27, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 09
GSBA honors Space Needle executive: Why Space Needle workers aren't celebrating
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GSBA honors Space Needle executive: Why Space Needle workers aren't celebrating

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

At their February 24 awards dinner, the GSBA honored Karen Olson, the Space Needle's Marketing Vice President, as their Corporate Leader of the Year.

Space Needle employees are not celebrating, however. They say owners of the iconic Seattle landmark have engaged in a systematic campaign of abuse and intimidation against employees who have been fighting for three years to get a new union contract.

The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), the federal agency charged with resolving disputes between workers and their employers, agrees. On January 30, the NLRB found the Space Needle guilty of multiple unfair labor practices.

Among other violations, the NLRB found that Space Needle management fired pro-union workers and then refused to reinstate them, made coercive statements to pro-union workers, encouraged workers to quit the union, and reneged on a written agreement to resume payroll deductions for employees' union dues.

Space Needle workers first brought charges against the Space Needle in 2013. They won an initial legal victory in 2014 when an administrative law judge found for their claims, but management appealed the ruling. The Space Needle has also appealed the NLRB ruling and the case will ultimately be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court.

Julia Dube, one of the workers who complained to the NLRB, said she was disappointed by the GSBA's decision to honor someone from Space Needle management.

'The contributions of one individual may be noteworthy,' she told SGN, 'but I'd expect a community organization to look at the big picture.'

Dube, who describes herself as 'a vocal union participant,' says she was fired in retaliation for her activism. The NLRB found in her favor, and ordered that she be reinstated with back pay, including full tips and benefits.

She became active in the union, she explains, because she was dating someone who was also fired in retaliation for union activism.

'He chose not to pursue a complaint,' she says, 'but it caused me to be concerned about my job security. I thought that if someone didn't speak up about the union, management would gain the upper hand. And that's exactly what they tried to do.'

Dube was terminated in 2013, but says she is 'excited' to go back to work at the Needle, now that her 'federally protected right' to support her union has been upheld by the NLRB.

Jessica Severance, who has worked five years in the Space Needle's elevators and is on the union committee, works in a high-stress job with very little support from managers.

'We move 20 people at time, every 3 minutes,' she tells SGN. 'A lot of tourists. A lot of face time. It's so hard to manage stress levels. If someone says something rude to you it can have a snowball effect.'

'We're pretty much without support from managers,' she adds. When they do show up at her work site, 'they just micromanage everything,' she says. 'They intimidate people with threats of write-ups.'

One particularly galling part of her job is hauling Space Needle owners Jeff Wright and Howard S. Wright III up and down the elevators.

'They bring their friends up for dinner and drinks and put it all on the company tab,' Severance says. 'I haven't had a raise in four years! It makes me want to say 'We make you all this money so you can do all this for your friends.' I find it very hard to interact with those people.'

Even worse, Space Needle management recently offered employees a webinar on 'how to live on less.'

'It was offensive to see that,' Severance tells SGN. 'They want to show us how to be fiscally responsible and they won't give us a raise! Costs keep going up. My rent just went up $100. In fact, [the union committee] went to see the CEO to ask for raises and they refused to see us. They wouldn't even let us make an appointment. It's just unacceptable the way they're treating workers.'

Severance added that she was surprised that GSBA would honor a Space Needle executive.

'You remember the flag issue,' she said, recalling Space Needle management's refusal to fly the Rainbow Flag at Pride 2011. 'They really dragged their feet on that. I was so disappointed.'

UNITE HERE Local 8, in contrast, has been one of the city's most LGBT-friendly unions, endorsing marriage equality as far back as the Andersen Supreme Court case in 2006. The first hotel contract in the country to explicitly protect Transgender workers was negotiated by Local 8 at the Westin in 2007. Since then, the groundbreaking contract language has become standard for all UNITE HERE 8's labor agreements.

The GSBA was invited to comment for this article, but GSBA President and CEO Louise Chernin was unavailable.

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