Stagehands union pushes for higher wages at Fiserv Forum

The bowl seats 17,500 for basketball and 18,000 for concerts.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:10 pm

The promises of living wages and workers’ rights have been major talking points for the Milwaukee Bucks during the construction and recent opening of the new downtown arena, Fiserv Forum.

As part of its Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) agreement made in February, the arena’s 1,200 part-time service and hospitality workers will earn an hourly wage of $12.50, increasing to $15 by 2023– and Bucks officials say the initiative will set a new compensation standard for those industries.

But one workers’ group is not satisfied.

Local 18, Milwaukee’s chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is demanding higher wages and employee benefits for stagehands working at Fiserv Forum. The union has held informational pickets outside the arena since it opened.

Through its hiring hall, Local 18 places 350 to 400 area stagehand workers in jobs at events including Summerfest and Wisconsin State Fair, and at entertainment venues including Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Pabst Theater, among others.

“There are efforts to hire stagehands (for the arena) with extremely low wages,” said Tom Gergerich, the group’s business agent. “We work at venues and festivals around the area, and we don’t feel that this level is acceptable for the work we do.”

The wage standard for stage employees in the Milwaukee area starts at about $20 an hour (or a little over) with benefits, but the Bucks are currently offering $12.50 to $14 an hour and no benefits, Gergerich said.

The exact wage amount sometimes varies from venue to venue depending on its conditions, but all venues follow a general wage and benefits standard, he said.

Stagehands work behind the scenes during entertainment events. Their responsibilities include stage construction and set-up, lighting, sound, rigging and special effects. Some stagehand jobs require certifications in electrical or carpentry, which, he said, sets the trade apart from other service industry jobs, as “a different level of service and skill.”

Local 18, prior to Fiserv Forum’s Aug. 26 opening, approached the Bucks with its concerns, but no resolution was made.

Bucks officials declined to comment.

Gergerich said the group’s efforts so far have focused on providing information to the Bucks, the public, local politicians and area stage employees about the stagehand industry and its usual wage standards.

“We won’t drop the torch,” he said. “We’ll keep it up, and hopefully, there will be a better working conditions down the road… we are trying to encourage the right thing.”

Fiserv Forum will host its grand opening show on Tuesday, Sept. 4, featuring The Killers and Milwaukee natives Violent Femmes. The Bucks will host its regular season home opener on Friday, Oct. 19, against the Indiana Pacers.

The arena will also be home to Marquette University men’s basketball, which will hold its own open house at Fiserv Forum on Aug. 29. The team will begin its season later this fall.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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