For Tom Noud and his colleagues at Seattle’s Amy Yee Tennis Center (AYTC), tennis is not just a game, it’s a philosophy rooted in sportsmanship, respect, and treating people the way you want to be treated. Now, nearly seven years after organizing their unit into PROTEC17, they are mobilizing to ensure that the City of Seattle shows them the respect they deserve in their next contract.
The AYTC, part of Seattle Parks and Recreation, serves hundreds of players a week, year-round at their indoor courts through group classes, private lessons, U.S. Tennis Association matches, and more. And as a busy, bustling place that is popular and well-loved by the community, the center brings in over a million dollars each year. Yet, the five permanent Tennis Professionals, 19 temporary employees, and six Customer Service Representatives who help clients at the front desk, receive wages that fall far below industry standards.
Noud and his fellow Tennis Professional colleague Baraka Brown – both PROTEC17 Stewards and leaders who have been working at the AYTC since 2007 – are advocating to change that. Noud, who was a practicing attorney before pivoting back to his lifelong love of tennis as a vocation, has been researching wages at various tennis centers and clubs, and is finding the City’s wages fall short – by a lot – at least 50 to 100 percent less per hour.
All of the Tennis Pros have expertise in tennis, coaching, and lesson planning plus years of experience and certifications, making their jobs highly specialized, which is why Noud and Brown are also fighting to have their titles changed from ‘Tennis Instructor’ to ‘Tennis Professional’, per industry standards. In addition, the physical exertion, endurance, and potential for occupational injury, make the job hard on their bodies. Noud, himself, is currently on leave recovering from foot surgery.
The AYTC front desk workers, too, who are currently classified as ‘Cashiers’ are doing far more than just taking money, Noud asserts, and are also being paid well below market rate.
“Everyone at Amy Yee is working to build an ongoing, positive experience for our customers at the tennis center, many of whom come in regularly and we build long-lasting relationships with,” he said.
But even with all of their skills and passion for their work and clients, employees at the tennis center are finding it hard to make ends meet. Those who live in the city are barely scraping by, others have roommates, and many live in Federal Way, Auburn, Everett, and other areas outside of the city where the cost of living is cheaper. And most Pros work additional hours giving private lessons in the summer months to supplement their income.
“It’s demoralizing knowing that the AYTC profits off of the sweat equity of its staff, but refuses to pay us a competitive living wage,” said Noud.
Alongside Customer Service Representative Johnny Townsend, Noud and Brown have participated on Labor Management Committees, created internal staff petitions, launched a sticker campaign, and are currently taking an active role on the contract action team that is supporting negotiations for the next contract in order to push for change. In addition to a pay increase, they are seeking improvements to their working conditions, including their relationship with management and excesive disciplinary actions.
“We’ve made it our mission to improve our pay and workplace conditions,” said Noud, who loves his job, colleagues, and clients, despite the hardships.
“Tennis has been a part of my life since age six,” he continued. “I’m still in touch with players and coaches from my youth because they made an indelible imprint on my life. I try to have a similar impact on my students by relaying those same values that have shaped me. It’s gratifying to be a part of a student’s development, and I’ve made many lifelong personal relationships in my time at AYTC, too.”
If you would like to help support the PROTEC17 members at the AYTC (along with all of our City members who are fighting for a strong contract!), scan the QR code on the back of this issue to send an email to Mayor Bruce Harrell and the Seattle City Council.