Dozens of striking workers and supporters gathered at the Canal Street Palermo Villa Inc. facility to announce their appeal of the NLRB ruling.
By H. Nelson Goodson
December 17, 2012
Milwaukee, WI – On Monday, dozens of Palermo Pizza striking workers, supporters, union representatives, State Representative John Richards (D-19 Dist.) and Voces de la Frontera (VDLF) staff gathered at the Palerma Villa Inc. manufacturing facility to announce an appeal has been submitted to the National Labor Relations Broad in Washington D.C. concerning a labor dispute triggered by Palermo’s attempt to bust union organizing efforts by Hispanics. Most of the Palermo striking workers have been terminated by the pizza manufacturing company.
An estimated 84 workers went on strike in June after Palermo sent notices to the workers that an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audit determined their legal status was in question. The ICE audit arose shortly after Palermo found that more than a hundred workers were conspiring to form a uion at the company.
The workers were terminated and nine other workers who crossed the picket line were also fired for supporting the strikers. The employees filed a complaint with the Wisconsin regional National Labor Relations Broad (NLRB) claiming that most were fired because Palermo used an ICE audit as a tool of retaliation for organizing collectively.
The workers on Monday called Palermo’s CEO Giacomo Fallucca the Grinch and sang Christmas songs, “We wish you a Merry Christmas and Justice next Year…”
Last month, the regional NLRB found that indeed Palermo violated federal labor laws by intentionally intimidating and threatening to fire, which eventually terminated nine employees as retaliation for their efforts to organize a union at the pizza facility. NLRB regional director, Irving Gottschalk determined that Palermo Villa engaged in “retaliation” by threatening to terminate multiple employees who crossed the picket line to join the strike.
Gottschalk ordered Palermo to reinstate the nine employees and must pay back wages dating to when they were unlawfully terminated. He also could not determine, if Palermo used the ICE audit as a tool to bust any efforts to form a union.
Recently, after Palermo owners publicized that they were vindicated, thay asked for workers to vote whether they wanted a union. Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele are backing Palermo and are asking for a vote as well. But, no employees union vote can take place until the NLRB complaint is resolved through an appeal.
The ICE audit at Palermos remains in limbo until the labor dispute is resolved with the NLRB as well.
Raul de la Torre, a spokesman for the striking Palermo workers acknowledged three strives they have accomplished, since they went on strike. De la Torre said during a press conference on Monday, that Palermo has given a $1.00 raise to company workers, workers are now working five days instead of manatory overtime that included most of the work week and that some of the striking employees will return to work with back wages paid.
Palermo’s CEO, Fallucca claimed, they were vindicated of the allegation that they had used an ICE audit to terminate conspiring union organizing workers. ICE suspended the audit when they discovered that Palermo had a labor dispute with employees who went on strike concerning wages, safety work related concerns and trying to form a union at Palermo Pizza.
Palermo despite the ICE audit, took it upon themselves to fired the striking workers without certifying they were undocumented at the time. Palermo has said, the employees would be rehired, if they can prove their legal status to work in the U.S. Only Hispanics at the company were targeted and were requested to prove their legal status, according to some striking workers.
De la Torre criticized temperary staffing agencies that Palermo has contracted to replace striking workers, which pay minimum wages of $7.25 an hour or slightly higher for the labor and sweat of the workers. The staffing agencies are profiting from the work and sweat of temperary workers, “they should be getting paid a living wage” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of VDLF said.
Maria Somma from the USW also said, the union and striking workers are working to expand their national boycott campaign against Palermo by working to make sure Costco, Roundy’s and Family Dollar who provide Palermo products to their customers do pressure Palermo to resolve the labor dispute. Somma acknowledged that these corporations are making sure a supplier code of conduct is adhere by those product suppliers who do business with them.
State Representative Richards alleged that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has awarded millions in loans to Palermo who promised to create living wage jobs. An estimated $12M in loans have been awarded to Palermo and haven’t been paid back or any certification by the company has been made public that they have actually met their promised goals including creating higher wage jobs in the Menomonee Valley industrial section and $50M in public funding has been lost without any accountability from the WEDC, according to Richards. Richards did not mention, if he or other legislators will propose a bill requiring the WEDC to hold recipients of public funding loans to payback those loans and to require companies receiving public funding loans to account how they spend them.
In October, a report authored by the AFL-CIO’s Center for Strategic Research (CSR) indicated it can not determine, if Palermo Villa Inc. has met the required minimum wage for employees as specified by the WEDC since 2005, due to a lack of administration of accountability and transparency by the WEDC. The CSR report says, that many jobs at Palermo pay about $10.55 per hour and “have paid less than the WEDC’s minimum wage ($10.88 per hour) requirement for tax-credit-eligible jobs as well as less than the Menomonee Valley Partners living wage ($12.00 per hour).”
The CSR report also found that taxpayers would find it impossible to determine, if the public funding was wisely used by Palermo Villa Inc. or if Palermo has met the WEDC minimum wage requirement to receive public subsidies. So far taxpayers will most likely continue to question, if Palermo has come short in fulfilling their commitment for economic development and job creation after receiving $26 million dollars in public subsidies and loans from city, state, and federal sources.
The CSR recommended that WEDC should improve disclosure of company reporting on accountability, tax credit programs should adopt minimum wage requirements that match reputable living wage index for the region it serves, should enforce “clawback” measures for companies failing to meet the minimum wage requirement to pay back any job creation tax credits received and should deny subsidy eligibility and enforce “clawback” provisions when companies violate labor laws.
Top photo: Raul de la Torre and Christine Neumann-Ortiz addressed the media.
Lower photo: Representative John Richards (D-19 Dist.) talked about WEDC’s lack of accountability to taxpayers.