High Road Strategy Center Releases From Community Benefits, to Collective Bargaining, and Back: Building Worker Power in Milwaukee

On March 27, High Road Strategy Center released From Community Benefits, to Collective Bargaining, and Back that illustrates the ways in which The Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) has been able to successfully secure improvements in employment and job quality standards for service workers in Milwaukee’s Deer District. MASH’s framework has been critical in ensuring living wages, stronger benefits, and a voice in shaping the work of service workers in downtown Milwaukee and beyond. This report provides a description of MASH’s strategy in hopes this model can be adopted as a route to stronger service jobs in other communities. 

“We often see rich developers coming to cities demanding public subsidies, and that comes at a real cost to the community,” said report author Laura Dresser. “MASH’s Community Benefits Agreement is designed to build a sustainable and self-reinforcing approach to raising the floor under service jobs. In doing this, MASH has helped get strong community results from public investment in a private interest.”

A few key findings:

  • Good CBAs are enforceable, transparent, legally-binding private agreements between developers and strong community organizations regarding the impact of a development project. 
  • At their best, CBAs can raise the quality of the service jobs by providing a context of labor peace which allows workers to form a union, as they did with MASH. 
  • In MASH, workers have the strength of collective voice and ability to negotiate improving wages and working conditions, long after the project development phase is complete. In 2016, the Alliance for Good Jobs signed a Community Benefits Agreement with the Milwaukee Bucks guaranteeing service workers in that arena a living-wage floor, targeting hiring practices, and most importantly a fair process to unionize.
  • Milwaukee’s first CBA was successful at establishing labor peace and provided space for workers to create their union, the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), free from employer interference. 
  • Since 2020, wages have more than doubled for workers represented by MASH. The contract provided better benefits, more predictable scheduling, and longevity for hundreds of Milwaukee’s service workers.
  • In 2023, a new contract was negotiated. In the new contract, there are substantial improvements in wages and considerable changes in non-wage conditions of employment. This contract creates stronger hospitality and service-industry jobs to ensure more hours of work for members. 
  • MASH is also expanding the model and paving a pathway toward raising the floor under service jobs throughout the region. 


Read the full report here.

Questions? Contact report author, Laura Dresser at ldresser@wisc.edu.


In March, at the inaugural event of the Good Jobs Collaborative, MASH’s work on service jobs was featured alongside other worker-led workforce development in  Unleashing Worker Power: Building Good Jobs Beyond the Traditional Workforce System. The High Road Strategy Center is proud to be one of the 13 founding members of the Good Jobs Collaborative which is advancing a worker-centered workforce development system. Further, MASH’s model has been the focus of work in Kansas City where the Royals are seeking public support for a new venue, and the community is demanding real change from the public investments. We shared lessons from Milwaukee with Kansas City in Covering the Bases: Community Benefits for Public Subsidies in Kansas City. For these national audiences, the model in Milwaukee stands out with direct applicability to questions of economic development, structures of Community Benefits Agreements, and how unions can raise the floor under service sector jobs. 

For more information and comments on MASH’s perspective, please contact MASH President Peter Rickman at Peter.Rickman@MASHWorkers.org or (920) 284-4710.





Based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, High Road Strategy Center is a national think-and-do tank that promotes “high road” solutions to social problems. These treat shared growth and opportunity, environmental sustainability, and resilient democratic institutions as necessary and achievable complements in human development. High Road Strategy Center is nonpartisan but values-based. We seek a world of equal opportunity and security for all.



The Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) is an organization of service and hospitality workers in Milwaukee focused on improving employment and workforce standards in our industries. MASH addresses the challenges facing workers and employers in order to transform employment, industries, our community, and our lives.