Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Barrett Pushes Council To Accept Milwaukee Tool Deal

Council seeking labor agreement for contracted service workers.

By - Apr 24th, 2021 03:40 pm
Milwaukee Tool rendering for 501 W. Michigan St. Rendering by Stephen Perry Smith.

Milwaukee Tool rendering for 501 W. Michigan St. Rendering by Stephen Perry Smith.

Next week the Milwaukee Common Council will begin its review of the Milwaukee Tool financing proposal that would bring up to 2,000 jobs to the Westown neighborhood in exchange for $20 million in city cash as part of a complicated, performance-based tax incremental financing district.

But it’s not what’s in the deal that has raised concern from council members, it’s what is not in it. A labor group is pushing for a community benefits agreement to establish pay assurances and job protection for the contracted service workers that will support the office facility at 501 W. Michigan St.

Mayor Tom Barrett, in a letter to the council, is encouraging the council to keep the deal moving forward.

“Pushing Milwaukee Tool away would be a serious mistake and a major disappointment,” wrote Barrett in a letter Thursday. “The company’s growth requires office space as soon as possible, and it will select a location outside of Milwaukee if the current proposal does not move forward. The negative impact of Milwaukee Tool’s departure would be compounded. Right or wrong, the message others in the business community would hear is that Milwaukee is a difficult place to grow. Potentially, that will discourage others from choosing our city, and that would be harmful to everyone here in Milwaukee.”

Milwaukee Tool, headquartered in Brookfield, is committing to paying $15 per hour wages to all employees and contracted service workers by 2023. But Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) is calling for worker protections. MASH is pushing for similar agreements with other large downtown facilities.

At the proposal’s April 15th hearing before the mayoral-appointed board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, MASH president Peter Rickman said the janitorial, food service and service sector jobs need to be good jobs. “You have a chance to deliver for cooks and cleaners,” said Rickman to the board. “We need you to choose us.”

“Don’t kill the deal, hold off on moving the deal forward until there is a community benefits agreement,” said the labor organizer. MASH has had success establishing labor agreements at other large facilities including Fiserv Forum.

Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa testified in support of the workers’ requests. “I am very passionate about this issue,” said Zamarripa. She said the labor agreement was important, but would cover fewer than 20 employees. “I don’t think it’s asking too much.”

“We are working very closely and have plans in place to discuss this with local stakeholders,” said Milwaukee Tool CFO Ty Staviski. He said the company was also working to determine if any agreement should be with Milwaukee Tool or with the contractors that will actually directly oversee the employees. “We are still working through some of those details.”

Rickman said such an agreement should only take 30 minutes to be negotiated and he was happy to buy coffee for the meeting.

But that discussion appears not to have progressed and the council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee is set to review the proposal on Tuesday.

“Milwaukee Tool projects it would bring more than 1,200 jobs here,” wrote Barrett. “That impact would be felt in nearby restaurants and hotels. It would be felt at entertainment and cultural venues. Local not-for-profits will benefit. It would add to the economic health and to the vitality of our city. Milwaukee Tool looks forward to the possibility of hundreds more jobs – beyond the 1,200 – in the years ahead. Importantly, the company is a signatory to the MMAC Region of Choice initiative, which aims to increase overall minority employment 15% by 2025 and to increase minorities in management 25% by 2025.”

The RACM board unanimously endorsed the proposal.

“I fear that our loss will be the gain of some other community,” said Common Council President and RACM board member Cavalier Johnson, comparing the deal to the city’s failure to approve the Strauss Brands plant. He said he didn’t want to see Milwaukee Tool choose Franklin, Greenfield or Wauwatosa. “It is for these reasons I am going to be in support of this, knowing that conversations will continue.”

Area alderman Robert Bauman initially endorsed the proposal in an interview with Urban Milwaukee. Both RACM and the council must approve the deal.

“I think it’s a very significant development and frankly it’s about time for a company with Milwaukee in its name to return to Milwaukee,” said the alderman on March 31st. He singled out the location choice, on the west side of Downtown, as a significant positive for the city.

But in an April 19th interview with Rich Kirchen, Bauman said the deal was “in trouble” with a majority of the council if a community benefits agreement wasn’t adopted. He said a deal, in one form or another, would comply with a resolution the council passed in 2019 that established the “Community-Oriented, Responsible and Equitable (CORE) Development Zone” framework that calls for worker protections and a $15 minimum wage. Barrett signed that proposal.

“The concept behind this is basically we have a lot of wealth creation going on downtown, we have a lot of development going on downtown, a lot of increase in assessed value downtown,” said Bauman in 2019. “There are people making money and that’s good, but we need to share that wealth with a lot of the workers that work downtown, but live in the neighborhoods that are experiencing declining assessments, declines in household income.”

A city ordinance already requires developers receiving $1 million or more in city financing to complete 40 percent of the project’s construction work hours by unemployed or underemployed city residents and 25 percent of the project contracts by value going to disadvantaged firms.

A full copy of Barrett’s letter is available on Urban Milwaukee.

For more on Milwaukee Tool’s proposal, including the potential to add up to four stories to the five-story building, see our coverage linked below.

2019 Conceptual Renderings


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