Graham Kilmer

Pabst Theater Group Workers Want A Union

Workers at its five venues organizing with Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers.

By - Apr 5th, 2022 02:53 pm
Pabst Theater. Photo taken February 23rd, 2007 by Jeramey Jannene.

Pabst Theater. Photo taken February 23rd, 2007 by Jeramey Jannene.

The employees of the Pabst Theater Group are organizing a union.

Urban Milwaukee has learned that approximately 80% of the roughly 60 employees working in the box office, hospitality and as event staff, have signed union authorization cards with the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH).

The workers recently delivered authorization cards and a request for voluntary recognition of the union to Pabst Theater Group CEO Gary Witt. Witt or a representative of the Pabst Theater Group have not responded to a request for comment from Urban Milwaukee.

The Pabst Theater Group includes The Pabst Theater, the Riverside Theater, the Miller High Life Theatre, the Turner Hall Ballroom and the Back Room at Colectivo.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin tweeted Monday, “Workers in Wisconsin should have the freedom to organize a union in their workplace, and I support the Pabst Theater Group workers joining together to have a stronger voice on the job. This effort should be respected and free from any intimidation or union-busting activity.”

Peter Rickman, president of MASH, told Urban Milwaukee in an interview Tuesday, “Pabst Theater Group workers… have been organizing for quite some time, thinking about how a voice and a seat at the table is the way to improve the workplace that they love.”

“Now we wait to see what the employer will do before we figure out our next steps,” Rickman said. “And, ya know, their immediate response wasn’t ‘hell no’; their immediate response was we’re gonna get back to you. So we’re patiently waiting on the timeline that we’ve put forward to them; they’ve requested a little bit of extra time to consider recognizing the union through a card-count.”

The authorization cards delivered to Witt tell an employer that the worker wishes to be represented by a specific labor union. The Pabst Theater Group can agree to voluntarily recognize the union or require the union to win an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We believe that it is quite possible that Gary Witt and the Pabst Theater Group will not only recognize the overwhelming support of a clear, strong supermajority of the workers involved here, and recognize the union, bargain a contract and just remain neutral throughout the process,” Rickman said.

Rickman said that along with authorization cards, a majority of workers have also signed union membership cards, indicating their willingness to become dues-paying members of the union. “Fundamentally, this group of workers has said a union is our organization, it’s a worker organization and we’re not only saying we want to have union representation in a contract but we’re going to build a union here,” he said.

That workers are organizing Pabst Theater Group venues doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy the work they do or support the venues that employ them, Rickman said. “You can appreciate what you do but want to improve your workplace,” he said. “The best way to do that is with a voice and a seat at the table, a role in the decision making and a balance of power; and that comes with a union and a contract.”

“And we’re requesting that you respect our rights, recognize our union, bargain a contract and not engage in any union busting that we’ve seen, particularly here in Milwaukee with the Colectivo workers,” he said.

Workers at Colectivo Coffee only recently gained recognition from the owners after organizing for two years, and facing two appeals to the results of a union election held in March 2021. Shortly after going public, Colectivo hired expensive “union avoidance” consultants to meet with employees.

One thought on “Pabst Theater Group Workers Want A Union”

  1. says:

    Congrats on the good work done by MASH. They have ventured where other unions haven’t. I look forward to a day when all of our service workers are earning a living wage, have benefits, and are UNION! Solidarity!

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