Milwaukee aldermen back proposal seeking to raise pay of downtown service workers

Committee backs establishment of CORE development zone

Downtown Milwaukee

A group of Milwaukee aldermen have endorsed a proposal that aims to raise the wages of service-sector employees working in the city’s central business district.

The Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee on Thursday approved without objection a resolution that would create a so-called Community-Oriented Responsible and Equitable, or CORE, development zone. The proposal states that owners or developers of property located in the central business district that employ service workers should enter into community-benefits agreements similar to the deal struck between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Alliance for Good Jobs, according to resolution sponsor Alderman Robert Bauman and co-sponsor Council President Ashanti Hamilton.

That agreement, which was first announced in 2016, established a $12.50 minimum wage for Bucks workers who live in Milwaukee ZIP codes most affected by unemployment or underemployment. Also under the agreement, the minimum wage will increase to $15 by 2023.

“Basically, this creates a pathway to family supporting jobs with protections that labor bargaining agreements provide,” Bauman said during the committee meeting, which took place at City Hall.

Bauman said the proposed CORE development zone would apply to any properties with the “C9” zoning, which includes downtown and the Historic Third Ward. He said he’d be open to expanding the zone’s boundaries after Alderwoman Milele Coggs suggested it should extend north of McKinley Avenue, an area that has seen some recent hotel development activity.

He also made clear that state law prohibits the city from mandating such agreements be struck. He said legislation signed into law last year prevented local units of government from requiring developers to enter into labor-peace or community-benefits agreements as a condition of receiving city financing on a project.

Milwaukee has other programs that set certain small-business contracting and resident-hiring requirements on projects that receive city tax incremental financing assistance.

However, by approving the resolution establishing a CORE development zone, Common Council will still send a message to developers, Bauman said.

“We’re saying it’s our sense this should be done, and be it known to everyone out there this will inform our decision and our votes as these situations come before us,” he said.

Peter Rickman, president of Milwaukee Area Service Workers and Hospitality Workers Organization, the group that formed out of the Alliance for Good Jobs, said many Milwaukee residents three or four decades ago were buying homes with wages earned from union jobs, many of which were in manufacturing roles.

Many of those jobs are now gone, and have been replaced by low-paying service jobs, he said.

Hamilton said a stigma exists that service jobs, in areas like custodial, food service and hospitality, are undesirable roles to work in. He added that people’s reputations of downtown businesses are not formed by the presidents or CEOs, but by those who represent the face of the companies.

“The experience is going to be measured by how the waitress treated you, how the bartender treated you, how the security treated you,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to be the people who actually handled you.”

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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