Marquette student organization supports Palermo’s workers

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YES is encouraging Marquette’s hall stores to stop selling Palermo’s pizzas. Photo by Danny Alfonzo/ daniel.alfonzo@mu.edu

Over the summer, many of Palermo’s Pizza’s employees went on strike to protest against labor practices and for the establishment of a union. Now, Marquette students are joining workers in their efforts.

To impact the company financially, the former workers called for a national boycott of Palermo’s goods on July 29.

Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin’s largest immigrant rights center, reached out to Marquette’s organization Youth Empowered in the Struggle, hoping the university will stop selling Palermo’s pizza in hall stores and at basketball games.

Marquette’s YES president, Sean Orr, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said the organization is circulating a petition and leading a campus-wide boycott against Palermo’s pizza.

“Our first step is just building awareness and support for it on campus,” Orr said. “So we’ve started emailing faculty members to see if they’re willing to support us and we’ve started a petition among the student body to get them to sign up for it.” So far, he said, 12 faculty members have responded in support of the boycott.

“We want to raise this issue here at Marquette because we are a moral voice in Milwaukee as the Jesuit university of Milwaukee,” Orr said.

At the beginning of this summer, about 150 of the 220 employees at Palermo’s were allegedly threatened with termination for wanting to form a union. They therefore went on strike. About 75 of the original 150 workers who walked out are still on strike and have subsequently been fired and replaced, Orr said.

Palermo’s Marketing Director Chris Dresselhuys recounted a different chain of events leading up to recent layoffs. Dresselhuys said the company was notified of an audit being conducted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February 2011 and that Palermo’s “turned over approximately 420 I-9 forms, dating back to 1986, to that government agency.”

Dresselhuys said this past May “the government informed Palermo’s that, in the absence of that additional information, that it was illegal for Palermo’s to continue to employ the people that the government had identified as being ineligible for employment in the U.S.”

The former workers still plan to remain on strike and are confident that their requests will be met.

Cheryl Maranto, chair of Marquette’s department of management and a PhD in labor relations, said there is no clear-cut timetable for this decision.

Maranto said the former workers have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to be represented by

Photo by Danny Alfonzo/daniel.alfonzo@marquette.edu

a union and vote for a representative to bargain collectively with Palermo’s. She said there is also an unresolved unfair labor practice charge against Palermo’s.

“Basically, now the company is saying they will be happy to abide by the workers’ wishes,” Maranto said. “However, given that they have fired many of the workers who want representation and are striking to get representation and they have replaced them with people who are coming in knowing they are replacing striking workers, the question before the NLRB is, ‘Who gets to vote?’”

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