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Space Needle Workers Hold A One-Day Picket Amid Long-Running Labor Dispute

Chethan Shankar

Tourists visiting the Space Needle on Labor Day will see workers out picketing, as the unionized workforce at the Space Needle continues to put pressure on the private owners of Seattle’s iconic landmark. 

The labor dispute has been going on for years. The workers are represented by Unite Here Local 8, and their union has been pushing for a contract with protections against outsourcing of jobs.

But they haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the company, which declared an impasse in July after presenting a final offer. The union’s bargaining committee didn’t put that offer to workers for a vote, so the company went ahead and implemented the terms. The employees got raises but no explicit guarantees their jobs are protected from outsourcing.

"They did recently give us raises, but what good are those raises if tomorrow they come to us and say, `You have x amount of days before we’re going to subcontract your job. You can apply with the new company but we can’t guarantee that they’ll hire you,'" said Jessica Severance, an elevator operator at the Space Needle.

Severance says she appreciates the additional pay and values the job for its health and dental insurance. But she’s disappointed that the Space Needle, which is owned by the Wright family, hasn’t agreed to the protections the union is asking for.

Space Needle LLC said in a statement that the workers have one of the strongest wages and benefits packages in the hospitality industry. The company says it’s had the right to subcontract for the last 28 years and that this issue hasn’t come up in previous decades of bargaining.

"Some of our team members may choose to express their right to protest," the company said in an emailed statement. "We respect their right and continue to be committed to investing in our team members and to providing them with a great place to work."

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.