Graham Kilmer

Pabst Theater Group Union Approves First Labor Contract

Following summer unionization vote, new contract includes improved pay rates, expanded labor-management policies

By - Dec 15th, 2022 10:53 am
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. File photo by Graham Kilmer.

The union representing Pabst Theater Group (PTG) employees ratified its first labor contract Thursday.

The union, which was successfully organized in July, represents hospitality, box office and event staff working at PTG’s six venues including the Pabst Theater, Riverside Theater and Turner Hall Ballroom. The union was organized under the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), which also represent hospitality workers at the Fiserv Forum.

“PTG workers settled a strong first union contract that delivers living wages, career pathways and employment growth in the industry,” said Peter Rickman, MASH president. The union’s bargaining committee has been negotiating with PTG for several months. Workers voted from Monday to Wednesday, with 97% voting to approve the contract.

The contract, Rickman said, provides substantial pay increases for workers averaging approximately 15%. “PTG workers are going to see not only increases in their base classification rates, but also longevity pay increases that reward years of service,” he said.

The contract also establishes a number of policies and structures that will balance the power in the workplace between management and workers. “One thing that PTG workers really wanted was a way for management to be accountable,” Rickman said.

This includes a clearly articulated grievance process for employees looking to enforce their rights under the contract, and a new Joint Labor-Management Committee that Rickman said offers workers a venue for input “on things going beyond the day to day, it’s about the bigger picture of the company, it’s about policies and procedures.”

The PTG union had been quietly organizing for more than a year and went public in spring. It won a contested National Labor Relations Board election in June with 94% of the workers voting in favor.

“Folks organized this union, because they believe in the entertainment industry, at the same time, they just want a better job,” Rickman said.

The new contract has mechanisms for career growth within the company and the entertainment industry, Rickman said. The overarching goal of the union’s work is to build pathways for workers to see a future and a career in the jobs they work.

“Whether it’s for cooks and cashiers, bartenders and servers, or it’s folks who are involved in running live events, we really want to build in the service and hospitality industry, industry-wide, sectoral careers for people doing this kind of stuff,” he told Urban Milwaukee.

Through MASH Rickman is attempting to build out union membership in the service and hospitality industries with the end goal of creating a labor association that can bargain for wages and employment standards across the sector. A model for this sectoral bargaining is the janitors union in Milwaukee represented by SEIU Local 1 which represents workers at approximately a dozen different companies and won a $15 minimum wage in its latest contract.

“There’s no reason that we can’t bring together all the employers to sit at a common table with this union and employ a common workforce,” said Rickman. “And that’s exactly what we’re building here.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that SEIU is not a parent union of MASH.

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