Graham Kilmer

Pabst Theater Group Disputes That Union Contract Finalized

Union says contract finalized. Pabst says not quite but won't say why.

By - Dec 22nd, 2022 04:36 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.

Newly-unionized staff members at Pabst Theater Group (PTG) venues voted to ratify their first contract last week, but PTG is now attempting to sow doubt about the state of the new labor agreement.

“PTG workers settled a strong first union contract that delivers living wages, career pathways and employment growth in the industry,” said Peter Rickman, Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) president. The agreement, according to the labor leader, includes pay increases, a new labor-management committee and a well-defined grievance process.

Rickman, who through MASH helped the workers organize, told Urban Milwaukee that 97% of the workers in the bargaining unit ratified the contract offer brought to them by their co-workers on the bargaining committee.

We published an article on the contract on Dec. 15. Then, five days later, Urban Milwaukee received an email from PTG stating that there were factual inaccuracies.

“Despite the recent reports, we do not yet have a signed agreement with the MASH Union. Additionally, many of the data points reported in this coverage have been factually inaccurate based on the current draft of the contract,” said the organization in a statement. PTG added that it expected the agreement to be finalized soon.

But what are those data points? PTG did not respond to an initial request. After a follow-up request, PTG offered: “We don’t have further comment on the matter other than our statement.”

Reached for comment, Rickman told Urban Milwaukee, “well, it’s true, there isn’t a signed document.” But that’s largely a formality at this point.

The labor leader explained that once the union ratifies a contract it does still require signatures from the “authorized parties,” but the bargaining committee wouldn’t bring a contract for a vote unless it was agreed upon by both parties at the bargaining table.

After the union ratifies the contract there will often be “administrative alterations, technical corrections, grammatical and spelling mistakes,” Rickman said, but nothing substantive is changed.

“I will own up to the fact that every now and then I will spell a word wrong,” said Rickman. “Now, I’m not some fancy-pants, high-price attorney that has paralegals at my disposal; this is not an operation here that has silk-stocking lawyers on retainer to do all that kind of stuff for us.”

Rickman said PTG’s attorney had recently sent over a list of changes to be made to the contract and read one out, “page two, article 1.7. ‘Fix the font.’ Noted.”

There is nothing in the contract to be materially changed at this point, Rickman said. “And if there is a matter of substance that does arise during the course of this, you’ll probably hear about it from me because we’d be filing unfair labor practices that would lead to federal charges.”

“I don’t want to get into a whole pissing match with the Pabst Theater Group managers,” said Rickman. “I would imagine that they ought to probably have better things to do.”

The labor leader added that he “didn’t want to speculate” as to why PTG would release such a statement after the union ratified the contract. He did say that representatives of PTG complained to him that there was press coverage of the contract agreement which Rickman described as a “very noteworthy and newsy event.”

“I don’t want to speculate what’s in their head,” Rickman said. “But you know, some people might look at this and say, ‘well, they’re just a little salty, that they didn’t get to bask in the reflective glory of what employees there have been able to accomplish.'”

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