By Jasmine Marwaha, Community Organizer with UNITE HERE Local 8 and a member of PSARA
Fifty years ago, Howard S. Wright and his peers built the Space Needle to be a symbol of the future. While the Needle pointed to the skies and heralded Seattle’s destiny as a technology epicenter, it also contained living wage, union jobs for the service workers who welcomed guests and cooked the food. Generations of workers were able to support their families because of the good jobs at the Space Needle.
Unfortunately, the owners and CEO, Ron Sevart, are eroding this legacy, attacking their union workers who are asking for living wages, continued benefits, and job security. For the last two and a half years, the Space Needle has gone beyond trying to weaken their workers’ contract, and escalated to flat-out union-busting: firing and suspending union activists, encouraging workers to resign from the union and not pay their dues, interrogating workers about their union support, and failing to recall union supporters after seasonal layoffs. The National Labor Relations Board recently took the Space Needle to trial for many of these actions, and the verdict is expected in the next few weeks.
Despite these intimidation tactics, over 70% of the workers at the Space Needle have recently signed a petition declaring their support for their union and for a fair contract.
“I have worked at the Space Needle for over 23 years, and I have never seen management act this way in union negotiations,” says Lee Plaster, a banquet captain at the Space Needle. “They thought that this time they could bust the union and intimidate workers like me, but it has been almost three years and we are going to stay strong until we get justice, and a fair contract.”
Over the course of the years-long struggle, community organizations, including PSARA, have stood with workers on the picket line, written letters to the Space Needle owners, delegated management, and signed petitions asking the Space Needle to respect their workers. The Seattle LGBT Commission, the Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Commission, as well as the Seattle City Council, have all written to the Space Needle to encourage them to settle a fair contract with their workers.
Not only has Mr. Sevart refused to respect the workers’ rights at the Needle, members of the Wright family also own Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac and are spearheading the fight against the $15 minimum wage initiative. The Wright family also owns the Chihuly Garden and Glass at the Seattle Center, which is currently under boycott due to the delayed and unfulfilled commitments they made to the City in their bid to build on public land.
The struggle of the Space Needle workers is bigger than one workplace; it is about taking a stand against a wealthy Seattle family that is undermining workers’ rights throughout the region. Time and again we have seen corporations try to squeeze all the profits they can on the backs of their workers. The Space Needle workers will continue their struggle for the symbol of Seattle to represent a better future.
On behalf of the Space Needle workers, thank you for your continued support, and stay tuned for more ways to support the workers!