Yesterday morning, I joined State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson, UNITE HERE Local 8 Union President Erik Van Rossum, and workers at a rally of Space Needle employees seeking long sought-after pay raises.
The previous evening I sent this letter to Space Needle President Ron Sevart, urging him not to appeal the recent National Labor Relations Board order that ruled in favor of Space Needle employees. That letter follows the one I sent him in 2013, when I first appealed to Mr. Sevart to mediate a resolution to the Space Needle’s dispute with its employees over union activities.
With the iconic Needle looming in the background, employees voiced concern over not having received a sensible raise in 3 years and the Space Needle’s hiring of a couple of hundred seasonal workers, many of whom will be paid more than permanent long-time employees.
A low point for Seattle, the Space Needle, and for all working families in Seattle came in January, when management provided Space Needle employees webinars on how they should adapt to stagnant wages by cooking meals at home instead of eating out and by visiting museums on free admission days. If this weren’t so out of touch, it would make a good comedy scene in a movie.
Space Needle employees, including servers, bartenders, and cooks, have been working without a contract since May of 2012. They have filed a number labor practice complaints against the company. In late January, a 3-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board voted unanimously that Space Needle management violated federal labor law by distributing letters encouraging employees to resign from the union, UNITE HERE Local 8; rescinding its prior commitment to resume deducting union dues from employees’ pay; polling workers on their opinions regarding the union; and failing to re-hire two employees laid off for the season who supported the union.
What disturbs me most about this situation is how the Space Needle’s management philosophy reflects anti-working family policies being pursued across the country.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that our nation’s 2015 state legislative sessions have seen roughly 800 union-related bills proposed.
President Barack Obama expressed alarm over Wisconsin’s recent anti-union shenanigans and the general assault on unions nationwide.
“It’s inexcusable that, over the past several years, just when middle-class families and workers need that kind of security the most, there’s been a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government,” Obama said in a statement Monday. “I’m deeply disappointed that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy.”
The link between dwindling good-paying jobs, such as those unions fight for, and our growing income disparity is clear. And, I’m not talking about high-paying jobs, just ones that pay decent wages.
Between 1973 and 2007, the decline in union jobs accounted for roughly 1/3 of the growth in wage inequality among men and 1/5 among women (Economic Policy Institute).
From 1979 to 2007, average household income for the nation’s top 1% more than tripled, while middle-class incomes grew by less than 40% (Congressional Budget Office)
And, in 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the poverty rate in the U.S. rose to a 17-year high: 46.2 million people (15.1% of the U.S. population) were in poverty and 49.9 million went without health insurance.
Last year, Reuters News noted that “Unions have historically been an equalizing force that bolstered the middle class, both economically and politically. The demise of them leaves a hole in the American political economy that, if not filled by unions or something else, will likely lead to an even more unequal society.”
Corporate leaders may reflect back nostalgically on the union jobs their parents and grandparents relied upon to raise their families. I find it both sad and ironic that today many of those leaders discount the contributions unions make to sustaining middle class families.