Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

After $15-Per-Hour Pledge, Museum Gets Zoning Change

Council members asked for better protections for food service workers.

By - Jul 31st, 2023 03:45 pm
Rendering of new museum viewed from the west side of N. 6th St. Rendering by Kahler Slater.

Rendering of new museum viewed from the west side of N. 6th St. Rendering by Kahler Slater.

After council zoning committee members warned that they could vote against a zoning change for the new $240 million Milwaukee Public Museum last week, the full council unanimously endorsed the museum’s request Monday without a single word of discussion.

Council members, led by Robert Bauman and JoCasta Zamarripa, had raised concerns that the museum wasn’t committed to complying with a 2019 city policy, the CORE resolution, that calls for downtown developments to pay at least $15 per hour and offer union-like job protections to all employees. Bauman was critical of the Department of City Development for not even making the museum aware the policy exists.

“We pass things, we set policy and everybody forgets,” said the alderman last Tuesday.

At issue was not the museum’s rank-and-file employees, who are already union members, but the employees of a food service contractor. Museum president and CEO Ellen Censky indicated last week that the organization couldn’t put the requirements in its contract, but council members suggested that’s exactly what it should do.

The museum was given a week to learn about the non-binding CORE resolution and decide whether it intended to comply. Legally, council members could vote against the zoning change if the museum said it wouldn’t.

In an email to the council Friday, Censky said her organization was “already in alignment.”

Censky said the organization’s non-management employees are unionized as part of AFSCME, the museum will recognize the employees’ union of choice at the new location, the organization’s minimum wage is $15 per hour and its current catering operator, Noble Catering & Events, pays a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

She also suggested that future contractors would need to comply with the spirit of the CORE resolution.

“We have had multiple, productive conversations with council members and other interested parties and have reached an understanding on how to move forward to utilize key CORE principles to shape the food service [request for proposals] and contract for the Future Museum’s food service,” wrote Censky.

Without naming exactly who it was, council members said last week said they were contacted by representatives of an organization concerned about the food service workers and potential non-compliance with CORE.

“I already know the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) are ready to meet with you immediately to work this out,” said Zamarripa last week. MASH president Peter Rickman championed CORE’s adoption in 2019 and raised the issue of non-compliance with Milwaukee Tool‘s new downtown office.

CORE is designed to improve job quality and pay for service industry workers and is modeled after a community benefits agreement reached by a MASH predecessor and the Milwaukee Bucks regarding Fiserv Forum.

In addition to explicitly addressing the CORE resolution, Censky’s letter also touched on the museum’s “aggressive inclusion goals.” She said the nonprofit museum, which operates with a county-owned collection, is aiming to contract with firms that hire Milwaukee County workers or are headquartered in the county, firms that have union-represented employees, companies that qualify for SBE, DBE or other disadvantaged business certification programs and companies that employee unemployed or underemployed city residents through the city’s Resident Preference Program.

For more information on the museum proposal, see our extensive past coverage.

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Related Legislation: File 221922

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