In a discussion that lasted over three hours, the city’s development committee voted 4 to 0 to send the Milwaukee Tool project proposal to the Common Council for final approval - a move that could bring up to 2,000 jobs to a vacant building in downtown Milwaukee.
"Probably over the last half-century, this might be the largest one-time infusion of jobs that we have seen," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
A $30-million renovation project to build an additional office for Milwaukee Tool in the city’s downtown area is advancing once again. In the proposal, the city of Milwaukee would provide up to $20 million in tax subsidies for the project. And while the project is being viewed as a major investment in the city, there are still a number of concerns.
"I’m here today calling on you to take care of Milwaukee service workers before you take care of Milwaukee too," said Anthony Steward, a service worker.
Currently, the pending development agreement calls for service workers, those not employed directly through the manufacturing company, including food, janitorial, and security workers, to be paid a minimum wage of $15 an hour, which the company has agreed to.
"We had an hour wage discussion and now we’ve committed to the $15 an hour," said Milwaukee Tool Chief Financial Officer, Ty Staviski.
But concerns about ensuring better wages, working environments, and benefits before the project moves forward were raised by council member Bob Bauman and other advocates.
"$15 an hour without seniority protection and scheduling right is not a good job," said Steward.
To put this issue into context, according to data software company Payscale, the average hourly rate for food service workers in Milwaukee is $11.97 an hour, janitorial service workers is $11.73 an hour and for a security officer its $13.28 an hour.
"Make sure that before Milwaukee Tool moves forward, that they ensure responsible contractors for janitorial, security, and food-service workers," said Peter Rickman, executive director for the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization.
Milwaukee Tool officials add that if the project is approved, they hope to do a quick renovation of the vacant building and have employees working inside by October.