Among the many great things about the Stranger Genius Awards/Shunpike benefit we're holding at the Space Needle March 31 is that you won't have to cross a picket line to get there. But that doesn't mean the Space Needle isn't in the midst of a labor dispute.
Tomorrow at 3 pm, members of Unite Here! Local 8, the union representing about 200 Space Needle servers, bussers, cooks, and greeters, will be holding an "informational picket" outside the Seattle landmark, demanding greater job security for its members. The most recent contract between the union and the Space Needle expired last May, and the main sticking point has been management's refusal to accept a clause prohibiting the facility from subcontracting its jobs either in whole or in part.
"The Space Needle is the top tourist attraction in Seattle," Local 8 spokesperson Stefan Moritz says, "and we think that should be reflected in the kind of jobs they provide."
Moritz is quick to credit the Space Needle with providing some of the best benefits in the local hospitality industry, calling it "a symbol of stability and family wage jobs." According to a fact sheet provided by the union, the wages aren't all that special: servers and bussers make "around" minimum wage plus tips, greeters earn up to $13.60 an hour, and cooks earn between $14.50 and $17.00 an hour. But the benefits appear top-notch: a $50 per month per family monthly premium on a fairly generous medical plan, plus a defined pension.
And that's what the union is trying to protect. Subcontracting is becoming increasingly common at hotels and restaurants, and Local 8 is particularly concerned about the opening of the banquet facility at the new glass museum, which looks like it will be run as a separate entity, fearing that the Space Needle's owners could essentially subcontract its jobs to itself, ridding itself of the costs of benefits. Moritz says that other local employers like the Westin and the Seatac Doubletree have recently signed contracts that protect workers from subcontracting, and Local 8 is merely asking the same of the Space Needle.
For its part, the Space Needle didn't want to comment on the negotiations, but spokesperson Mary Bacarella did forward me the following brief statement:
"The Space Needle has not proposed subcontracting its workforce and has no plans to do so. In the past 25 years, we’ve subcontracted represented positions twice – both of those times Local 8 was notified and 100% of the jobs went to Union companies.
We’ve requested federal mediation as our next step and hope that process will bring us to an agreement."
Mediation is currently scheduled for Monday, March 26. But even if nothing is settled, neither side seems to expect a strike or a lockout anytime soon.