Unite Here Local 8 and Space Needle management have been through 11 federal mediation sessions over the last three years. Now management will implement pay raises contained in its last offer.
The Space Needle, which has failed to negotiate a contract with a union representing many of its employees for several years, said Tuesday it had reached an impasse and was going to implement its last offer.
That deal includes a wage increase of up to $1.55 an hour, effective Tuesday, for 176 workers, along with a yearly increase through 2019 of 50 cents an hour. It also includes retroactive pay raises dating back to 2011.
More than half the Space Needle’s 466 employees are represented by Unite Here Local 8, the Pacific Northwest hospitality union, and have been working without a contract — and many without a raise — since the last one expired in 2012.
The union and Space Needle management have been through 11 federal mediation sessions over the last three years, including five in the last 90 days.
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“We had a lot of faith that this last mediation would end with us having an agreement with Local 8,” said Ron Sevart, president and CEO of Space Needle LLC, which manages the privately owned Seattle landmark. “When it was clear that we weren’t going to get a deal and we were at an impasse, this (became) a way that we could get the wage increase to team members now.”
Specifically, of the 261 employees represented by the union: 25 workers — bartenders and valets who receive tips — will get a raise of 78 cents an hour; 151 workers — non-tipped guest-services positions, back-of-house cooks and elevator operators — will get a wage bump of $1.55 an hour. Those workers have all been making more than minimum wage.
The remaining 85 workers represented by the union — mainly restaurant servers and server assistants who are all tipped — will not receive a pay raise since they are minimum-wage workers who’ve been getting state and city minimum-wage hikes, according to Space Needle management.
The union’s bargaining committee chose not to present the offer to the membership for a vote. Among the union’s concerns was the offer did not include enough job-security protections and that it reduced workers’ access to union representation.
The union wanted the Space Needle to require future subcontractors to retain existing workers, while the Space Needle’s proposal said only that it would request that future subcontractors do so.
“We’ve seen a trend toward subcontracting in the hospitality industry,” said Abby Lawlor, a researcher and spokeswoman with Unite Here Local 8. “It’s a major concern to workers. … Over time, we’ve addressed it in other contracts with other employers and were hoping to address that with the Space Needle.”
The union also objected to management’s proposals that it said would limit access to the job site for union reps.
Space Needle management had proposed that union representatives s not conduct union business in the employee breakroom, and instead offered two other rooms to do so.
“We have a very small employee breakroom,” Sevart said. “When the union is conducting union business in that breakroom, they’re taking up space that other team members really need to enjoy their break.”
But Lawlor, the union spokeswoman, said its contracts elsewhere across the city allow for union reps to have unrestricted access to the job site.
“Anything less than that restricts workers’ access to representation,” she said.
Lawlor called the wage hike for Space Needle workers a victory, and said the union would continue to fight for a contract that addressed job security and other concerns.
The relationship between the Space Needle management and the union has been contentious, with Local 8 filing a complaint in 2013 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing management of anti-union efforts.
An NLRB panel found in February that Space Needle management did indeed violate federal labor law by engaging in practices aimed at discouraging workers from participating in or supporting a union. Those practices included distributing letters encouraging employees to resign from Local 8, and reneging on a prior agreement to resume deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks.
Space Needle management said it disagreed with the panel’s findings and has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.