Graham Kilmer

Pabst Theater Group Refuses Union Recognition

Theater group says it will only recognize union after an NLRB election.

By - Apr 13th, 2022 04:27 pm
Justin Otto, Pabst Theater Group employee and union organizer, speaks at press conference outside The Riverside Theater. Photo taken April 13, 2022 by Graham Kilmer.

Justin Otto, Pabst Theater Group employee and union organizer, speaks at press conference outside The Riverside Theater. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Workers at venues owned by the Pabst Theater Group announced Wednesday that their employer refused to voluntarily recognize their union.

Pabst Theater Group (PTG) employees working in hospitality, the box office and as event staff have been organizing a union with the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH).

On Monday, April 4, they delivered authorization cards signed by a majority of workers stating they wanted MASH to be their collective bargaining representative and asking PTG for voluntary recognition of their union.

The theater group’s leadership finally provided their response Tuesday, saying they would only recognize the results of an election held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

In a statement, the theater group said, “We feel that the best way to determine whether a majority of employees desire to be represented by the union is through a free and fair secret ballot election…We have respectfully declined the union’s invitation to bypass that election procedure and have asked the union to file a petition with the NLRB to request an election. Our company has a long history of working with unions and we are committed to honoring the results of an election certified by the NLRB.”

The stage hands at PTG are currently represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

Justin Otto, one of the PTG employees leading the organizing drive, said at a press conference Wednesday, “None of us will pretend that we weren’t disappointed yesterday when our employer refused to recognize us. We know that’s how it usually goes when workers form a union, but we wanted to give Pabst an opportunity to show that they’re different.”

Union organizers are confident they’ll win the election. Organizers say that approximately 80% of employees who would be eligible to be represented by the union have signed authorization cards, and that a strong majority have already signed up as members of the union.

Lulu Sanchez, another organizer, said the workers that make up the bargaining unit seeking recognition are a “really strong group.” She wasn’t worried by the prospect of an NLRB election, and called the refusal of voluntary recognition “a little hiccup in the road.”

“I think it’ll be fine,” she said.

MASH President Peter Rickman said the theater group has agreed to negotiate the terms of the NLRB election with the union. Rickman laid out the position of the union, saying, “We expect that they will remain neutral in this process, we expect that they will allow a free and fair choice of Pabst theater workers to form their union. And we expect that they will do so, without relying on the bureaucratic machinery that unfortunately federal labor law allows too many employers to take advantage of.”

Otto said it was “an unnecessary delay” to refuse voluntary recognition of the union. “But it doesn’t really make a difference, because we have the vast majority of our staff already signed up as members of this union, so we’re not gonna lose a vote.”

He said management was attempting to characterize their action as an attempt to discern whether the employees really want to have a union represent them, but it was the employees who requested this. “I’ll tell you, I was there,” Otto noted. “They [Pabst Theater Group] were approached by us, their workers, directly telling them this is what we want. So them trying to represent this as something outside their staff that came in and tried to form a union here is patently false.”

Update: Story has been updated to reflect that in the final paragraph Justin Otto was speaking of the Pabst Theater Group, not union leaders.

2 thoughts on “Pabst Theater Group Refuses Union Recognition”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Greedy management

  2. MilwMike1 says:

    Gary Witt is the CEO of the Pabst Theater Group but who else owns is an owner? The PTG runs Miller High Life Theatre, the Pabst Theater and also operates the Riverside Theater, Turner Hall Ballroom and the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee.

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