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HARTE: Praise of Fiserv Forum fails to consider union workers

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The Fiserv Forum received rave reviews from fans, basketball players and NBA officials following its opening ceremony. However, praising the Wisconsin government or Bucks ownership for the successful opening is misguided, as these groups have required numerous sacrifices from Wisconsin residents and workers.

During the Forum’s opening ceremony in August, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver praised bipartisan support for funding the arena. “I have to say government works in Milwaukee,” Silver stated.

It appears that Wisconsin’s government works more for the Bucks than its common families and workers. According to The Washington Post, Wisconsin taxpayers have to pay $250 million for the new stadium, even though Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens are billionaire hedge fund managers.

The huge amount of public money for the new stadium could have been invested in education, which Gov. Scott Walker has cut funding for numerous times. In 2019, the state will invest less in public school districts than it did in 2011, something that has been true every year in between as well, according to Wisconsin Budget Project.

The Wisconsin government should recognize that funds for education are more important than funds to billionaire owners for a luxurious new stadium. However, the Wisconsin government’s mistreatment of its taxpayers did not end at funding the stadium’s construction.

In July, Fiserv Inc. purchased naming rights for the arena. The purchase came less than a year after Wisconsin lawmakers gave Fiserv $12.5 million in taxpayer subsidies to keep its headquarters in the state, as there were rumors it was considering moving to Georgia.

The naming rights for the Bucks arena are estimated at $5 million to $10 million a year. Watching Fiserv spend money on an expensive naming rights deal shortly after taking taxpayer subsidies makes the Wisconsin government look weak and easily manipulated by private business.

During the Fiserv Forum opening ceremony, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he’s thankful to the new Bucks owners for “believing in the community.” However, Bucks owners don’t seem to be making a credible commitment to the community’s union workers, who protested outside the Forum last week.

The protestors are part of a stagehand union named IATSE Local 18. Stagehands perform jobs for concerts and include sound and light operators, stage carpenters and electricians.

The union has been unable to reach an agreement with the Bucks. The group is employed by most other Milwaukee performance venues, including the Marcus Center for Performing Arts, the UWM Panther Arena and the Miller High Life Theatreas well as festivals like Summerfest and the Wisconsin State Fair.

The Bucks are currently using non-union, part-time stagehands with wages ranging from $12.50 to $14 per hour. These jobs offer no health benefits for employees. Local 18 offers a base wage above $20 per hour, with medical benefits and pensions for most workers.

The Bucks ownership used union workers during the construction of the arena and the project was completed on time and slightly below budget. It appears that the Bucks only wanted union workers during the hardest period of construction. Now that the arena is open, they feel no obligation to pay the competitive wages offered by neighboring arenas.

Before enjoying the new amenities at Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee sports and music fans should consider how the Bucks owners have taken advantage of their community members and tax dollars. They should also remember how members of the Wisconsin legislature have continually enabled the Bucks owners the next time they go to the ballot box.

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