Tuesday, July 03, 2012


With the Fourth of July up tomorrow what is more American than exploitng workers, especially immigrant workers. Every now and then, though, those workers get pushed to damn far.

A few weeks ago a variety of religions, Hispanic, and labor organizations clled for a national boycott of Palermo's Pizza prodcuts. Palermo’s Pizza workers went on strike about at the beginning of June 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. Eighty pecent of the mostly Latino workforce 
had voted to unionize.

Palermo’s workers began organizing in 2008. The Palermo’s workers aren’t affiliated with an international union; they’re working closely with Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group whose connection to unions was deepened when they occupied the capitol together last year. That occupation, Voces de la Frontera’s executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz told Chaz Bolte, of We the Party, created “a lot of room for creative and broader partnerships, and just a broadening of the labor movement.” Neumann-Ortizz adds, “Most of those workers are our members. We definitely have their back.”

Last November, some Palermo’s workers decided it was time to form a union. “We just wanted a voice,” says Silva. “Simply that they listen.”

On June 1, the drama took an upturn. In These Times reports workers had planned to mass outside the factory, with those whose shifts ended at 8 a.m. streaming out of work to meet those already picketing. Having heard about this plan, workers say, Palermo’s barred employees from leaving the building, physically blocking the doors and telling workers they would be fired if they left. Some workers escaped through emergency exits, while others contacted Voces, who called the police. Police collected testimony when they arrived.

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. Many who have been involved in organizing have been fired or theatened with dismissal.

 Hispanic News Neteork reported:

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.

Voices says"

...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 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.

“From my point of view, there’s been a lot of exploitation,” says Roberto Silva (he and other Palermo’s workers were interviewed in a mix of English and Spanish). He described to In These Times 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,” says Silva.
Jose Ramirez sums up his life as “Just eat, sleep, and work.” In a video posted on the website The Uptake, a worker described being told he had to work the day after he was sent to the emergency room because his fingernail was ripped off by a machine. For years, says Alicia Garcia, workers would blame individual abusive managers, and every time one left, “We would say the next would be better.” Now, she says, they blame Palermo’s itself.

The Palermo’s Workers Union is demanding that Palermo Villa recognizes the Palermo’s Workers Union, re-instate the workers who were fired or replaced for participating in the strike, and negotiate a fair labor contract.

Palermo Pizzas are marketed under their own name and various other grocery store and products labels.  I wish I could give you the names, but I can't.  

A few simple things you can do.

 1. Use the sample tweets below to show your solidarity with workers today 

.@Palermos_Pizza until you stop harassing your workers, I will be getting my pizza elsewhere http://bit.ly/LUPdxJ#wiunion #solidarity

.@PalermosStrike I will be standing in #solidarity with u. @Palermos_Pizza needs 2 allow workers 2 have a voice on the job #wiunion #1u #p2

Petition @Palermos_Pizza to stop threatening & firing workers over union organizing http://act.ly/5yn RT to sign #palermosstrike

.@Palermos_Pizza I prefer my pizza without worker abuse. Stop intimating and harassing workers! http://bit.ly/MG2ttQ #wiunion #labor

Workers at @Palermos_Pizza r organizing 4 a safer workplace, a voice on the job. Show ur #solidarity: http://bit.ly/MG2ttQ #wiunion #labor

Thousands of petitions being delivered 2 @Palermos_Pizza 2day to tell them 2 stop harassing workers. http://bit.ly/MG2ttQ@PalermosStrike

Pizza topped with worker abuse? No thanks @Palermos_Pizza. Stop the harassment! http://bit.ly/LUPdxJ #nhunion #ohunion #palabor #1u

Wisconsinites delivering petitions 2 @Palermos_Pizza to demand they stop the harassment of workers. Show ur solidarity! #wiunion #labor #1u

2. Sign the Twitter act.ly petition

3. Go to Palermo’s Pizza’s Facebook page and leave a message that you want Palermo’s to stop the harassment of their workers, reinstate workers they fired and stop interfering with their efforts to get a voice on the job. Here is a link to Palermo’s Facebook page:http://www.facebook.com/palermospizza

4. If you haven’t already, sign the petition: http://signon.org/sign/tell-palermos-pizza-stop 


Protesters deliver petitions to Palermo Villa

John Klein

Abraham Moore (from left), Enrique Martinez and Danile Mercado prepare petitions Monday to be delivered to Palermo Villa Inc. by striking workers. The petitions contained signatures from 15,000 supporters of the striking workers.

Palermo Villa workers and their allies delivered petitions in pizza boxes to the company's Menomonee Valley facility Monday afternoon.

They are protesting what they say are unfair labor practices and unsafe working conditions at the frozen pizza manufacturing plant. Palermo denies the allegations.

Milwaukee police officers blocked the Villa Palermo entrance when the protesters' delegate, Daniella Benitez, 8, a worker's daughter, and her escort, the Rev. Joe Ellwanger, approached them with the first box of signed petition copies.

Organizers had originally planned to send a delegation of two labor leaders and two religious leaders, but Palermo would permit only one strike representative on its property, said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant and workers rights group.

Eventually the police officers, following the Palermo administration's mandate that no child be allowed on company asphalt, carried some of the boxes inside themselves.

"All we want is a voice on the job," said Raul de la Torre, who spoke on behalf of the Palermo workers' group before a crowd of workers and their supporters. "Why is the company putting so much time and energy into denying us this basic right?"

"Shame on Palermo!" protesters cried as police officers turned Daniella away.

Daniel Mercado, an organizer of the workers' strike that began June 1 and that pickets the Palermo facility every afternoon and evening, said he has come to expect Palermo to be unreceptive, but the episode with Daniella still upset him, he said.

Mercado and other pickets, chanting slogans such as "No justice, no pizza" and carrying posters with slogans such as "Boycott Palermo," are protesting what they say are unsafe speeds of production, sick day policies, wages, discrimination by some supervisors and retaliation for workers' efforts to unionize.

Ellwanger, representing Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope, an interfaith organization working to address justice issues, asked Palermo to "just treat your workers like human beings and treat them the way you treat your shareholders and people at your board table."

In a news statement, Palermo's marketing director Chris Dresselhuys said, "The conditions as described by the protesters seeking to organize a union at Palermo's are false and only harm the actual workers employed by the company now." He said the company will lead a "fact-based discussion" with its workers.

Workers want to return to their jobs, de la Torre said, but they want their rights first.

"In the end, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' And we will win," Ellwanger said.

Picket pics

To see more photos, go to jsonline.com/photos.

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