Graham Kilmer

Bernie Sanders Supports Pabst Unionization

Pabst Theater Group CEO Gary Witt donated to Sanders' presidential campaigns.

By - Apr 21st, 2022 10:17 am
Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy of Bernie 2016.

Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy of Bernie 2016.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced his support for the box office, hospitality and event staff workers unionizing at Pabst Theater Group venues.

“I am proud to stand in solidarity with the @MASHWorkers members working to organize a union at @PabstTheaterGRP. When 80% of workers sign cards — they should have a union. I urge management to sit down with the workers in good faith and negotiate a fair contract,” Sanders tweeted Monday.

The social media endorsement came a week after the Pabst Theater Group declined to recognize the unionization effort, triggering the need for a formal vote.

PTG CEO, Gary Witt donated to Sanders’ presidential campaign during his last two bids for the Democratic nomination.

He donated more than $200 directly to Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and more than $100 directly to his 2020 campaign, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records. Witt made many other donations during those election cycles, though they were made through the fundraising software ActBlue and the FEC database for individual contributions does not indicate who these went to.

Witt has also tweeted in support of Sanders.

A spokesperson for PTG declined to on Sanders’ statement prior to the publishing of this story.

Sanders isn’t the first senator to weigh in on the organizing drive at the Pabst Theater Group (PTG). Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin tweeted in support of the union on April 4.

PTG venues include The Pabst Theater, the Riverside Theater, the Miller High Life Theatre, the Turner Hall Ballroom and the Back Room at Colectivo.

Approximately one week after workers delivered union authorization cards — which affirm that they want the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) to be their collective bargaining representative — to PTG management the company responded and said they would not voluntarily recognize the union and would require an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). One PTG employee involved in organizing the union drive, Justin Otto, said workers were disappointed that ownership wouldn’t recognize the union when approximately 80% of the workers that would make up the bargaining unit have signed authorization cards. At a press conference, the workers expressed confidence they will win the election.

In a statement issued last week, PTG 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.”

Peter Rickman, president of MASH, told Urban Milwaukee he reached out the senator’s team, saying: “it would mean a lot to workers here if Bernie Sanders would say something in support of them.” 

“Bernie Sanders has really put a lens on unions as a way to build power for working people to address the myriad challenges that face us,” Rickman said. The senators statement was “really powerful” for the workers organizing Pabst venues, he said. 

The union has filed for an NLRB election and is negotiating with legal counsel for PTG on “moving through the bureaucratic steps relatively quickly,” Rickman said.

It’s not often that you’ll hear me give credit to an employer,” the union president said, but PTG does deserve some credit for not mounting an anti-union campaign and trying to bust up the nascent union.

“It’s fair to say, this is not Colectivo,” Rickman said.

It took workers at Colectivo Coffee more than two years of organizing to secure recognition of their union from the owners, who hired high-priced “union avoidance” consultants shortly after their employees’ union campaign went public.

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2 thoughts on “Bernie Sanders Supports Pabst Unionization”

  1. says:

    Way to go, Bernie & Tammy! Where’ s ROJO when it’s time to support Wisconsin workers. …..oh yeah, supporting jobs…in Non-union S. Carolina.

  2. Ryan Cotic says:

    Sadly it appears over and over that liberal elite owners of companies like the pabst group, Collectivo and amazon have been proven to be simply hypocrites!! Time to support the actual working class and put your money where your mouth is you frauds.

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