As Bay View entertainment venue Bounce Milwaukee gears up to reopen its doors after an 18-month shutdown, the business recently announced a partnership with the Milwaukee Area Service & Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), a labor union that represents service employees at Fiserv Forum and Deer District.
Under a so-called "landmark labor and workforce agreement," Bounce Milwaukee will grant union representation to its employees through MASH. In return, MASH will help the business recruit and hire qualified workers through its new digital hiring hall. The two organizations announced the deal at a press conference last week.
Traditionally, efforts to unionize are led by the employees, not employers -- and that process has been known to stir up power struggles between the two sides. Instead of fighting a union, said Bounce Milwaukee owner Becky Cooper, the business reached out to MASH in search of union representation for its employees. The move, albeit rare especially for a service sector employer, was driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the toll it's taken on service and hospitality workers, she said.
"What Milwaukee needs right now is good, supportive, collaborative jobs that recognize the value of workers," said Cooper. "We have wanted to unionize for years and the pandemic gave us the time and the opportunity to do things right. We recognize that the future of the hospitality industry is threatened and precarious right now, which makes it all the more important to be a responsible employer and to lead towards a future with different, cooperative business model."
Cooper owns and operates Bounce Milwaukee with her husband Ryan Clancy, who serves as a supervisor on the Milwaukee County Board. The family-friendly amusement park includes laser tag, rock climbing, an inflatable sports arena, and axe-throwing; it also serves pizza, casual fare, beer and wine. Bounce has been closed to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
With operations tentatively set to resume in mid-September, the business is currently staffing up to 15 to 18 employees, increasing to 25 during winter's busy season. Bounce was able to retain four of the 20 employees it had prior closing. Prospective employees can now apply for a job through Bounce's website. Through MASH's digital hiring hall, the business will have access to a pool of service and hospitality workers to draw from as well.
"This is valuable for the employer just as much as it is for the folks who work there," said Peter Rickman, president of MASH.
He hopes the partnership will serve as a model for businesses in the hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries as they struggle to fill open positions.
"Bounce is showing other employers the way to address workforce challenges through meaningful voice and a seat at the table for workers, decent job quality standards, and workforce engagement through worker organization," Rickman said.
For new direct hires at Bounce, the onboarding process will include information about the union and introduction to MASH. Bounce and MASH will negotiate a union contract once the business is fully staffed and the union is recognized by the employees.
For MASH, the partnership builds off the momentum of last year's labor agreement with the Milwaukee Bucks. In early 2020, MASH secured
a three-year agreement that includes a $15 minimum hourly wage, cost of living adjustments and longevity pay increases
for arena workers employed by Levy Premium Foodservice and Deer District LLC.
As Fiserv Forum and Deer District reopened to full capacity amid the ongoing pandemic, union representation provided an extra layer of protection against the health and safety risks of being at work, said Rickman. For example, he said, "there's a (COVID-19) testing protocol for how people get paid for their time to go get tested and then if they come back positive, they get paid for their shifts. At a non-union workplace, it's like go get tested and if you're positive, too bad. In this case, there's a very clear process and folks are treated as if they matter."