By Harriet Rowan on June 25, 2012

image of LED signs that say "boycott palermos"Workers at the Palermo pizza factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin are entering their fourth week on strike, demanding recognition for a union and demanding the reinstatement of workers who have been terminated for organizing and participating in the union drive. Palermo Villa, Inc. prepares and markets frozen pizza under many brand names across the United States and Canada.

Striking workers are joined every day by supporters on the picket line outside the factory, calling for a boycott of Palermo's pizza until it recognizes the Palermo workers union. Members of the AFL-CIO, Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association (MTEA), United Steelworkers Union (USW), and others have joined the striking workers, carrying umbrellas to keep the hot sun off their backs as they march back and forth in front of the factory. The "nuns on the bus" who are traveling around the country in opposition to Representative Paul Ryan's austerity budget, also visited the striking workers, sending a message of support and solidarity.

Workplace Safety Concerns Prompted Union Drive

Workers at the Palermo's factory in Milwaukee have been organizing collectively to address issues of workplace safety, sick leave, and violations of fair labor practices since 2008. In the fall of 2011, they launched an effort to create a union, and on May 29, 2012, they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with the signatures of about 180 workers, requesting that their union be recognized by their employer. Workers at the factory organized work stoppages in response to retaliatory actions by Palermo's management, and in an attempt to encourage their employer to recognize their union. Palermo's began to retaliate against those workers who had been organizing, which led the workers to take further action and begin their strike on June 1. Almost two weeks into the strike, the NLRB set a date for an official vote on unionization, which was slated to take place on July 6, but now may be postponed.

Workers started to organize to address workplace safety concerns after a series of accidents, including instances of amputation, that resulted from what they say were unsafe production line speeds and insufficient training. One man had his hands caught in a production line and his fingernails were torn out. He was examined by the company doctor and told to return to work the next day despite his request for further medical attention.

"From my point of view, there's been a lot of exploitation," says Roberto Silva who described being forced to work 70 to 80 hours a week, even while sick, and being threatened with job abandonment when he asked for a break. "You have to work until you can't," Silva told In These Times.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Palermo's for safety violations twice. Both instances involved a worker having a body part amputated in a workplace accident.

Palermo's Retaliates Against Organizers

man holding signVoces de la Frontera, an immigrant and workers rights group based out of Milwaukee, has been working closely with the largely Hispanic workforce at Palermo's on their concerns for many years.

When it became clear to Palermo that its employees were working towards forming a union, it started to retaliate. According to Voces about 150 workers originally went on strike, and about 25 of them have returned to work since the strike started. The remaining workers who are on strike have all been terminated or suspended indefinitely, with some workers receiving letters saying that Palermo's was accepting their resignation, even though they never submitted a resignation.

To fight the unionization drive, Palermo's hired notorious anti-union firm Jackson Lewis, and sent out notices to dozens of workers on the day they handed in their petition to form a union, saying that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was requesting further proof of citizenship.

Palermo's unfurled a professionally printed banner next to where workers are picketing, that said, "A union will not change your immigration status, only the right documents will," in English and in Spanish. ICE confirmed after the strike began that they had suspended any immigration or employment audit at Palermo Villa as a result of the strike, as is their policy, but Palermo's management continues to cite the audit in its communications with the workers.

One of the PR tactics Palermo's has used is inflating the number of employees that they have, in an attempt to make the number of workers on strike seem less significant. Voces believes that only about 200 workers would be eligible for the official NLRB union vote, but Palermo's has told the press that they have over 450 employees.

"No Justice, No Pizza" Support for Workers Growing

The workers have set up a strike fund and have been receiving donations from supporters who have brought boxes of food and other supplies to the picket line. People have also showed their support through a Sign-on petition, started by one of the workers to garner support for the strike, which has gathered over 10,000 signatures. Allies are asking for a national boycott of Palermo's frozen pizzas in order to put added pressure on the company to recognize the union.

At a press conference that Voces held with the workers, Christine Neumann-Ortiz said: "The Palermo workers' struggle is a struggle of national significance. In the wake of the recall election that was bought and paid for by billionaire contributions this struggle reminds us that you cannot buy people's dignity."

Ultimately, the decision on whether to form a union will be decided by the workers themselves. United Food and Commercial Workers recently petitioned the NLRB to intervene in the case on behalf of striking workers. This means the date that workers will vote on unionization has been postponed for now.

Comments

Is there a way to post a list of which pizza we should stop buying until the workers union is established.

There are two sides to every story and this one is from someone who did not get the 28 day notice but is still considered undocumented. First of all, I work there and this article is biased. Secondly, even before workers were notified that they needed to prove they could work in the U.S. legally, people were harassing each other claiming "la migra" was coming for EVERYONE. Then, ICE came in (two agents to be precise; NOT the "migra") to interview every single worker, including supervisors, managers, EVERYONE. There were a couple of polish workers who were complaining how Latinos thought "la migra" was only coming for them when everyone was being interviewed. The interviewers requested that you tell them your name, social security number and birthdate. They told me that the reason they were doing the interviewing was because some data was inconsistent: some S.S. numbers did not exist or birthdates/names were wrong. They called everyone into their interviewing room and many people did not speak when they were asked those same questions (and yes, they had translators available in case you are wondering). It turns out that, while I was waiting for my turn, I overheard some people saying to each other "No digas nada" ("Don't say anything"), which is not going to help their case at all. Then, after some were given 28 days to prove they were able to legally work in the company OR that they were in the process of legalizing their status, they left work early to picket outside. Okay, you'd say, they can picket BUT the few people that did not receive the 28-day-notice were threatened by these same picketers. Cops had to be called because current workers are concerned for their safety. Every time I approach the entrance door I am insulted by a few picketers. And in case you are wondering, I myself, don't have legal papers to work in this factory (or anywhere else) but I can't believe how far this lie has been outstretched! By the way, the union options they gave us cannot help these ex-employees and there is such a thing as a bad union. Thanks for reading.

If you would like to email me at harriet_rowan@prwatch.org I would very much like to talk to you about your experience working at the factory.

And that is how things look from the viewpoint of a scab.

If you aren't Legal a Union is not going to help you. It doesn't matter what the tell you - it is always easier to make promises. There are always two sides to every story. Thing aren't perfect but a Union isn't the answer - there are many laws to protect employees and unions have helped over the decades to get these in place which is good. It seems odd the unionization activity has started at the first threat of immigration coming in to investigate. Why not before - Palermos' have been around along time - hard to believe all of this just started recently....

then why bother reading some point of view from a common criminal(dont want to pop ur bubble, but thats what u are) that defaces the very fabric of this country...Go La migra.

You pay taxes in this country? nah, prolly send every cent home, that s ok, u have to feed ur family, but NOT AT MY EXPENSE.You obviously have internet, give it up hire an attorney and immigrate legally....awww thats too hard........THEN GO HOME.
Fools... how can you expect common sense from insensability? go home, we have enough entitlement generation of our own that believe the world owes em something. hate to tell u, it doesnt. GO HOME

Hang on its getting rougher out there.......

You don't need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows.........

toodles.

First off, let me explain. I am not nor have I ever been employed by Palermo Pizza. I am neither for or against unions. I do, however, believe everyone needs to be verified as a legal citizen. As the one person stated, he/she is not legal to be working anywhere, including Palermo. There are reasons why we have immigration laws in this country.

What I find very disturbing in the FREE country, that I was born and raised in, is that some unions feel it necessary to call people nasty names because they exercise their freedoms. Just because that person doesn't want to be in a union and choses to continue working doesn't make that person a "SCAB". People have fought and died to give us the freedoms we have. Live, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Even people choosing NOT to elect union status doesn't make them right or wrong anymore than people who chose to join unions. Name calling and brow beating are just methods of thuggery and intimidation. They violate human rights. Maybe the unions should try integrity, honesty, and openess instead of threats, name calling and intimidation. We have some pretty good unions in our area that work very hard to maintain a good working relationship with their members and employers. They come to the table with respect for each other's views, concerns and suggestions. Maybe the union thugs at Palermo could take a lesson from them.

there is no mention of the labor issues at the company...maybe someone can update the entry with a citation??

If the INS showed up to interview people it is probably because of someone using someone else's identity or SSN so the company could submit W2s to the IRS. What happens is that the victim of this scam realizes that he or she has a bunch of income being reported to the IRS, but never worked at the place. It was an illegal alien who is creating income and using your SSN for tax purposes. The victim is responsible for the taxes and in most cases they just pay it because you cannot fight the IRS.

Palermo's knows that they can hire illegals and pay them less. They also know that they need to file W2s on each employee, but that the employee isn't really paying any federal taxes because in many cases they used someone else's SSN. So they pay them at a much reduced rate, but they withhold zero, and then the victim of the identity theft would be on the hook for the full amount (instead of getting a refund) from the IRS.

The only time the INS even pretends to care is when they catch these kinds of tax games, and the only way these things are discovered is when one of the victims gets a lawyer to fight the government. Otherwise the Feds could care less, the victim receives a Tax Due Notice from the IRS, and frequently they just pay it off to make it go away. This is a criminal accounting practice which the IRS is aware of but does nothing to curtail.

Palermo's should be shut down. The company should be seized just like what they do during drug raids. All corporate assets should be auctioned by the state, and the management belong in prison. ALL of them.

I think along the same lines as you except that that should be done to all union management.
They are scum of the earth.