Space Needle Owners Violated Federal Labor Law, Administrative Law Judge Finds

Mar 7, 2014

The owners of Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle, violated federal labor law, according to an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board. 

The landmark that dominates Seattle's skyline is owned by Space Needle LLC, a private company owned by the descendants of the construction entrepreneur Howard S. Wright. The company he founded later built the Space Needle for the 1962 World's Fair. A spokesman says the company plans to appeal the judge's decision.

Restaurant servers, bartenders, cooks and other employees at the Space Needle belong to the union Unite Here Local 8. They’ve been working without a contract since May 2012 and brought numerous unfair labor practice charges against the company.

Now, an administrative law judge says the company violated labor law in several ways. For example, the company failed to reinstate automatic union dues deductions from employee paychecks even after an agreement with the union that it would do so. And the company tried to get employees to withdraw from the union by giving them a sample resignation letter they could use.

`Went Too Far'

"Employers have to get written authorization from employees to deduct dues automatically from their paychecks, but accompanying that form with a solicitation to withdraw from the union went too far, at least that’s what the administrative law judge found," said Charlotte Garden, an expert on labor law at Seattle University. 

The judge also said the company owes back pay to a worker who was active with the union. She was laid off with other workers, but the judge says the company refused to call her back to work when business picked up again because of her union involvement. 

Garden says this is an unusual situation because the workers have been unionized for a long time. 

"It's common, especially during an organizing campaign or early in the relationship between a company and a union, for workers who are supporting the union to be retaliated against," she said. "I think it's less common when you have a long-standing collective bargaining relationship like was the case here."

Space Needle LLC spokesman Sean Marshall says the company is pleased the judge dismissed some other claims. He says the company strongly disagrees with a few of the findings and looks forward to getting resolution through the appeals process. He says the company is also focused on making the Space Needle a preferred place to work in Seattle.