Graham Kilmer

Pabst Theater Group Workers Win Union Election

94% of bargaining unit votes to be represented by union.

By - Jun 1st, 2022 08:12 pm
Pabst Theater. Photo taken February 23rd, 2007 by Jeramey Jannene.

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

Employees at Pabst Theater Group (PTG) venues working in hospitality, box office and event staff have voted in favor of union representation in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They voted to be represented by the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH)

Peter Rickman, president of MASH, told Urban Milwaukee that 94% of the bargaining unit voted in favor of the union, calling it a “stunning victory.” Of the 38 ballots received by the NLRB, two were voided, and 34 of the 36 voted in favor.

In a statement, the theater group said, “Our company has a long history of working with unions and we are committed to honoring the results of the election certified by the NLRB. We look forward to working with MASH to find a common ground in the collective bargaining process.”

Initially, the bargaining unit was supposed to consist of approximately 60 PTG employees. But management sought to limit ballot eligibility to workers that had worked at least three shifts during the first three months of 2022. Rather than waiting for the dispute over the proposed bargaining unit to go to a hearing, the organizing committee opted to negotiate with PTG management on the stipulations of the election.

PTG workers sought voluntary recognition of their union in early April from CEO Gary Witt, delivering signed authorization cards from a majority of workers that could be covered by the union. Witt and Pabst management declined voluntary recognition, saying they believed an NLRB election was the “best way to determine whether a majority of employees desire to be represented by the union.”

Workers organizing the committee were not dissuaded by this, and were confident they would easily win the election. “I think we’ll be fine,” said Lulu Sanchez, a member of the organizing committee, after PTG declined voluntary recognition.

On May 10, Witt sent an email to PTG employees encouraging them to vote against the union. In the letter, Witt said, “This election will determine whether you can directly advocate for yourself or whether you will be bound by the terms of a yet to be negotiated contract as it relates to your employment with The Pabst Theater Group.”

In May, Urban Milwaukee asked a PTG worker, James Stapleton about the letter from Witt. He said, “It’s a pretty standard thing for a company to say to disincentivize unionizing, and it’s just frankly not true. By forming a union, it’s not getting rid of individual voices, it’s instead amplifying them by bringing the power of the collective backing each other.”

Other workers told Urban Milwaukee that the Pabst asked managers to meet with workers and ask them why they wanted a union, and what they hoped to gain from one. In his letter, Witt said “We know that you’ve heard a lot of conversations in the last few weeks and in some cases promises that may sound too good to be true. Please ask yourself whether the Union can deliver on all its promises.”

Stapleton countered, “The union doesn’t promise anything, except that it will bring us to a level playing field to communicate with the company. Aside from that, it’s a collective of workers, employees having a say in the company.”

Rickman reiterated Wednesday that the union was always confident about the outcome of the election, saying “We knew where the numbers were at because we know where workers are at.”

Still, Rickman said it’s a big deal for the workers, adding that he was personally happy to “see and feel that relief and excitement” from workers when the results came in.

Now we’re getting down to the work of building the union, not just winning the union,” he said.

The union has already begun preparing for negotiations, asking workers what their priorities for a contract would be. Rickman said the union would be ready to bargain as early as July 1. “We’re pretty hopeful that Gary Witt and PTG say ‘lets sit down and negotiate’.”

Rickman suggested that contestants in the battle for downtown concert venues — with Live Nation and the Milwaukee Bucks on one side and Witt and Kapco Metal Stamping CEO  Jim Kacmarcik on the other — pay attention to Wednesday’s election outcome. “Milwaukee’s entertainment workers are leading the way to show that Milwaukee is a union town again with 21st century service industry jobs.”

Rickman said the community benefits agreement his union has with the Bucks organization and Fiserv Forum covers the land where the proposed Live Nation venue would be located. “At some point in time, bosses can do the right thing and say there’s an industry standard,” Rickman said. He pointed to the Iron District project that PTG is a partner in and includes a live music venue, and said, “This is a mixed-use project that should be wall-to-wall union, and we’re already in that project because of the entertainment workers that [would be] operating there.”

“We’re hear to tell you, Milwaukee is a union town, and workers are moving in that direction if they aren’t already,” he said. “The folks behind the Iron District project have a choice to make.”

2 thoughts on “Pabst Theater Group Workers Win Union Election”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    “Milwaukee is a union town again”. Im pretty sure this is why many of the good jobs left the city in the first place…lol. seems odd to brag about that publicly

  2. says:

    Brother Cotic misses again. Transnational capitalism took those jobs overseas and down South. Unions did not take those jobs. Unions fought to keep those “good jobs” and sell-out politicians sold us down the river.

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