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Space Needle's Treatment of Workers on Trial

Paula Wissel

The Space Needle’s labor practices are on trial in a federal hearing room in Seattle. All week, the National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) has been presenting its case against the privately-owned Seattle icon.

Acting on a complaint from Unite Here Local 8, which represents several hundred Space Needle food and banquet workers, the NLRB is making its case that the company engaged in unfair labor practices, including encouraging employees to resign from the union and stop paying union dues.On Tuesday, union supporters rallied outside the federal building in downtown Seattle where the hearing is taking place.

Unite Here Local 8 spokeswoman Jasmine Marwaha says the disappointing thing is that since the Space Needle was built in 1962, it has been a union shop.

"You know, the workers love their jobs and they just want a chance to succeed, and a chance to keep their jobs in the future, and be around for the next 50 years,” she said.

Marwaha said since the last labor contract ended in 2011, attempts to negotiate a new one have gone nowhere. The main issue, she said, is job security. There’s a fear that the company wants to get rid of the union and subcontract the work out for lower wages.

Cisco Cole-Daum has been a server at Sky City, the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, for six years. He says he has been able to support his young son with the pay and benefits.

“It’s a job worth protecting, so we’re going to fight for it,” he said. 

In a released statement, Ron Sevart, CEO, Space Needle LLC, said: “Our ongoing position is to respect the negotiating process and we are comfortable that the facts disclosed during the hearing will support our position.”

Many people mistakenly believe the Space Needle is owned by the city, but it is privately owned by the Wright family, which built it for the World’s Fair.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.