The convention center is closed and a lot of people are out of work.
The convention center is closed, and a lot of people are out of work. 400tmax / Getty Images

Approximately 75 on-call workers at the Washington State Convention center have essentially been laid off.

These layoffs for workers who staff convention center events were announced as big events at the center started to cancel. These layoffs are expected to be temporary, but they will extend at least through the month of March. It’s not clear when, or if, shifts will become available to these on-call workers again, given the new limitations on group gatherings of 250 or more people made by Governor Jay Inslee today.

On-call workers got a heads-up last week, right as Emerald City Comic Con was postponing its March convention, that these cuts were coming. (Last year, around 98,000 people attended ECCC.)

Cancellations of upcoming events at the convention center "came from show and event managers with concerns about the coronavirus here in Seattle," Jeff Blosser, the president and CEO of the convention center, told The Stranger. "We do not know the extent or final impact of this at this time."

Non-salaried workers at WSCC are dubbed "on-call," so they can be staffed in accordance with the ebb and flow of events. With no events, the convention center has no need for these workers. While they're missing out on paychecks due to a public-health crisis, many on-call workers will be missing out on health insurance if the outbreak-related closures wear on. On-call workers have to work 60 hours a month to qualify for health insurance through their employer.

"We recognize the potential hardship to employees, and we have offered to allow any employee who had their confirmed shifts canceled to use their sick or vacation leave," Blosser said. "Which means they will be paid for those hours and that those hours count toward any hour minimums for health care benefits."

Teamsters 117 is the union that represents 44 admissions attendants who were among those that had their shifts canceled. The union is meeting with WSCC today, according to Paul Zilly, a spokesperson with Teamsters.

"This is a major concern for us," Zilly told The Stranger. "Our goal with meeting with the employer is to urge the employer to make accommodations so our members don’t suffer a lapse in their health insurance."

With other venues and event spaces suffering cancellations and cutbacks due to new social-distancing requirements, this may be the tip of the iceberg for the people who staff those facilities.