The Service Employees International Local 82 voted last night to strike Capital Centre. The vote was 110 to 52. The members of the union, which includes ushers, parking lot attendants and cleaners, also rejected Capital Centre's final contract offer 150 to 19.
"It's like David and Goliath," said Jim Richardson, a member of the Service Employees International (SEI). "We finally put up a fight, finally stuck it to them, and we're not going to back down."
Bullet fans will find some of the 300 SEI members picketing in the parking lots at 5 p.m. today instead of parking cars.
A spokesman for the Capital Centre said all events will go on as scheduled. The Bullets play Indiana there tonight and the NBA All-Star Game is scheduled there Sunday.
"We will use suitable replacements to cover our needs," said Bob Zurfluh, public relations director.
"There will be little or no inconvenience to any of our patrons," he added.
Zurfluh said a federal mediator is attempting to get both parties back to the bargaining table as soon as possible.
"We are willing to meet with the mediator to resolve the matter," he said.
The Centre had offered a 95-cents-an-hour raise over a three-year period. Mose Lewis III, the union's attorney and negotiator said. Our proposal was $1.05 over a two-year period."
"We are the lowest-paid workers in any arena in the country, while the Capital Centre is one of the largest grossing areans in the country," he said.
Richardson, a ticket seller who has worked at the arena for over three years, now earns $3.85 an hour. In the arena's new proposal, he would have earned $4.30 for the rest of this year and 25 cents more each of the next two years.
Capital Centre initially offered an increase of 5 cents an hour, Lewis said.
The union's contract expired Jan. 15. According to Lewis, Capital Centre paid the empolyes an increase of 95 cents for the contract of 1977-79. "Our membership was distributed and distressed that with inflation and gas increases the Capital Centre refused to increase its wage offer in excess of three years ago."
Lewis said members of the union's negotiating committee had been in contact with various unions, including those at CBS, which is scheduled to televise the All-Star Game Sunday.
Lewis said the union intended to contact the NBA Players' Association seeking support of the strike. He added that he intended to contact representatives of Capital Centre today "in an effort to resume negotiations as soon as possible."
Nearly 80 percent of the union membership is made up of part-time empolyes, Lewis said, some moonlighters, others students trying to help put themselves through school. With the exception of the change-over crew, the men who perform a seat change on a basketball court, turning it into an ice rink in an afternoon or vice versa when necessary, many of the union members are readily replaceable.
Lewis said money was not the only issue in the strike. Union members said that Capital Centre did not respond to an attempt to negotiate hilidays and vacations for all empolyes and a group health insurance plan for all empolyes.
"We had heard of this problem and we had anticipated the possibility of a strike by this union," said Kaufman, director of operations for CBS Sports said last night.
"We plan on being there to cover the All-Star Game. Our lawyers are aware of the situation. By tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday), we'll probably have further developments.
"We have no reason not to be there to cover the game."
Officials of the unions that would help CBS broadcast the game, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Directors Guild of America, could not be reached for comment last night on whether they would cross a picket line.