Entertainment Venue Workers Seek Greater Dignity in Their Work

In June this year, workers at the Pabst Theater Group (PTG) in Milwaukee voted overwhelmingly to unionize (with 34 voting for the union and just 2 votes against). PTG runs five entertainment venues in Milwaukee, including two of downtown Milwaukee’s most important venues: The Pabst Theater and The Riverside. The union vote came after a three months campaign.

In April, worker organizers delivered signed cards demonstrating union support from 80 percent of the workforce, but PTG refused to voluntarily recognize the union at that point. This refusal forced the official representation vote in June, overseen by the NLRB, where PTG workers voted to affiliate with Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), which also represents service workers at Fiserv Forum and the Deer District.

Young workers are a big part of the PTG workforce and the context of organizing in other jobs helped build interest in unionization according to PTG worker James Stapleton.

“People our age already have the dormant support for unions, but a lot of workers feel, ‘it’s not that bad, we don’t need it, our bosses are cool, we can talk it out.”

Like Stapleton, many of his co-workers are in their early to mid 20s and aware of the rise in union activity on a local and national level. He continued:

“There’s cafes all around us that are unionizing. Of course, Starbucks being a nationwide thing, everyone knows about that. Most people know about the Amazon Warehouse in New York that just unionized. Having [these examples] was a help to talk to our co-workers – to get them instead of being passively onboard to being actively onboard.”

PTG workers identified low wages, the rising cost of living, and weak communication between workers and management as key issues to solve together. PTG employee and organizer Connor Erickson, who spoke to us alongside Stapleton, said:

“Once I saw things in those terms, I started to really understand how [having a union] could benefit not just me, but everybody that fits under the categorization of bargaining unit employees…. I deeply believe that every job deserves the dignity to be a job that you can pay your bills on.”