MacIver News Service

By Bill Osmulski

[Milwaukee] When the Milwaukee Bucks built the Fiserv Forum, they signed a community benefits agreement with a labor union that all service sector workers would be represented by a union and make $15 an hour and come from specific zip codes in the city. The City of Milwaukee’s Common Council and Mayor are now forcing all downtown businesses to do the same thing. The problem is that’s against the law.

Ald. Robert Bauman acknowledged at a July 25th committee meeting, “If anyone requires a community benefit agreement or a labor peace agreement as a condition of a city subsidy, not only is it prohibited, but it’s a crime! It’s a crime!”

But don’t think for a moment the Milwaukee Common Council is going to let that stop them.

Alderman Bauman proposed a resolution in July that sends a clear message to the business community: if they want to stay in the common council’s good graces, they’d better have a community benefits agreement.

“Be it known, to everyone out there, that this will inform our decisions and our votes as specific proposals come before us,” Bauman said.

Bauman’s resolution sailed through the common council in less than a month – the vote was unanimous. Mayor Barrett signed it in august.

State Representative Joe Sanfelippo represents the western part of Milwaukee County. He authored the state law that the Milwaukee Common Council is wantonly violating.

“It’s blackmail. They are blackmailing you that if you want to do business here in Milwaukee, you’d better do things the way we want, which is having a union contract or we’re not going to approve you,” Sanfelippo said. “So you have a group of elected officials that are knowingly going out, subverting a state law.”

At the meeting, Bauman boasted, “Maybe we should all turn ourselves in and confess judgement! We’re all guilty of misdemeanors!”

Right now, the resolution only applies to downtown businesses, but it’s clearly not going to stop there.

Ald. Milele Coggs said, “It may be wise to figure out a map that extends beyond McKinley just because we’re starting to see more proposals for hotels within that two or three blocks north of McKinley as well.”

And the service workers union says its not going to settle for $15 an hour long term.

Peter Rickman, MASH Executive Director, explained at the committee meeting, “Fifteen was just a start. The real highlight, with apologies to Ald. Bauman is the union contract possibilities to raise things further.”

Sanfelippo told MacIver News, “Nobody begrudges anyone for wanting to make as much as you can, but there comes a tipping when the business paying you can’t afford it, and it drives the business to go bankrupt. You’re seeing that right now in Seattle and New York in the restaurant and hospitality business.”

Rep. Sanfelippo doesn’t think it will come to that – however.

The resolution violates state law – it openly blackmails private businesses – and it even calls for discriminatory hiring decisions based on zip code.

Sanfelippo explained, “I think this whole thing is going to end up in a court somewhere along the line. Whether it’s enforcement action by the state or whether it’s somebody going through this process and being denied a license or being denied being able to participate in a TIF district or whatever – to where they’re going to be able to come back and say the only reason you turned me down is because I wouldn’t break state law and you’re forcing me to break state law.”

But at least for now – the city of Milwaukee’s Mayor and Common Council have spoken. Businesses better voluntarily sign one of these agreements – that is if they don’t won’t any trouble.

Bill Osmulski is the news director for the MacIver News Service, a division of the MacIver Institute, a Madison-based free market think tank. Reposted with permission.