Monday, June 11, 2012

Palermo's Pizza Workers Uphold Union Organizing Rights In Private Sector Despite Governor Walker's State Union Busting

Photo: HNG

Union organizing in the private sector becomes the new battle ground for Wisconsin union workers at Palermo's Pizza.

By H. Nelson Goodson
June 11, 2012

Milwaukee - On Monday, a press conference was held by public officials, religious groups, union representatives and Voces de la Frontera (VDLF) calling for a national boycott of Palermo's Pizza products. It began as a statewide boycott last week and has gained enough support nationally to make Palermo Villa the new battle ground or epicenter for private sector union organizing in Wisconsin.
Last week Tuesday, Governor Scott Walker (R) defeated Democratic challenger Tom Barrett for a second time in the historical Recall Walker election. Democrats and union organizers wanted to remove Walker from office for approving Act 10, which eliminated union bargaining rights for most state public employees. Governor Walker will finish his term, but the Democrats took control of the Wisconsin State Senate by a margin of 17-16.
From last week's recall election to January 2013 no major legislative bills are expected to be introduced in the legislature, which Republicans still remain in control of the State Assembly. The August primaries and the November Presidential elections will define whether Republicans regain control of the legislature and if Wisconsin will become a "Right to Work" and Red state.
One of Palermo Villa owners donated $5,000 to Walker's campaign. Governor Walker and his administration has been promoting big business and have provided a billion in tax credits to corporations in the state. Walker has remained silent about the Palermo's Pizza strike and boycott of its products.
The Riverwest Co-Op Grocery & Cafe became the first to announced that it has pulled all Palermo's Pizza products from its location until Palermo Villa allows their employees to freely organize a union.
Palermo's Pizza workers went on strike about ten days ago for health and safety concerns and union busting tactics by Palermo Villa owners. The striking workers became the first private sector employees to organize a Palermo union after Governor Walker eliminated the collective union bargaining rights in the state for most public workers.
About 80% of the Palermo's Pizza employees who are mostly Hispanic petitioned to form a union at Palermo Villa. The company declined to recognized the employee union and began to use union busting tactics such as engaging in an immigration work place audit, replacing striking workers with temperary workers and continued a long practice of limiting days that a worker can take when getting sick, forcing employees to work and prepare food while sick or get terminated.
Fox6Now dot com reported Chris Dresselhuys, Palermo's Marketing Director had stated, that Palermo's Pizza notified VDLF of a pending I-9 forms audit requested by ICE in February 2011 to verify employees eligibility to work in the U.S. About 89 of 450 employees were targeted by the ICE audit. Palermo Villa requested VDLF to help the employees, according to Dresselhuys. But VDLF claims that it was Palermo Villa workers that requested their help in the strike after Palermo management engaged in immigration work audit intimidation to keep employees from organizing a union and seeking a safe work environment, including a fair labor contract to work at Palermo Villa.
Dresselhuys claimed VDLF allegations of ICE intimidation "level against Palermo's are categorically false," Fox6Now reported. He told media outlets that if all of the employees want a union, Palermo Villa would recognize a union. Only 30% of the employees are actually needed to form a union, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Palermo Villa management have not shown any attempt to resolve the union issue.
Attorneys from both sides have met, but no definate agreement or any labor contract negotiations have been initiated, VDLF confirmed.
Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed that they had suspended any immigration or employment audit at Palermo Villa as a result of the strike.
So far, Palermo Villa has shut down three production lines and has kept two lines operating for both the 1st and 2nd shift's and the 3rd shift is kept for cleanup and maintenance work crews.
More than 150 Palermo's Pizza workers went on strike after Palermo Villa, Inc. refused to recognize their union late last month. "Workers state that threats of termination and immigration audits began almost immediately after workers attempted to form a union in order to address safety concerns," VDLF reported.
The employees have filed a union petition with the National Labor Relations Board citing that Palermo Villa is in violation of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which allows union organizing recognition, if 30% of employees decide to form a credited union.
Palermo's Pizza employees on Monday demanded for Palermo Villa to recognize their union, a fair labor contract, to re-instate all terminated employees due to the strike and safe working conditions. Employees will elect Palermo union representatives on July 6, according to VDLF.
VDLF stated that, Palermo's health and safety record is a major problem. Palermo's Pizza has paid $7,000 in fines to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for unsafe working conditions. In the past four years, Palermo’s has been responsible for three separate incidents of worker amputation.
In two of these incidents OSHA fined Palermo Villa for their role in maintaining dangerous work environments. These are significant penalties and indicative of an extremely unsafe working environment.

Multiple union supporters and local activists known as the Overpass Light Brigade stand with a boycott sign in front of the Palermo's Pizza Milwaukee plant at 3301 W. Canal St. on Monday evening.
Jenna Pope, one of the activist and organizers said, their group takes an issue affecting the community and they make lighted signs to portray a message. The last lighted sign exhibited in an overpass in Milwaukee was "Recall Walker" and the latest "Boycott" for Palermo Villa stike and boycott.

Photo: HNG

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