Palermo settles with NLRB

Milwaukee frozen pizza manufacturer Palermo Villa Inc. has settled most of its outstanding issues with the National Labor Relations Board. The company has also requested the NLRB set a date for employee action on forming a union.

“We have reluctantly agreed to this settlement, despite believing that the facts strongly support our position,” said Giacomo Fallucca, president and chief executive officer of Palermo. “However, rather than continue to draw out the process and go to court, we have agreed to the settlement with reservation so that an election can take place. We do not admit to any fault in this negotiated settlement, but it’s time to move forward and let the voices of our workers be heard.”

The issues stemmed from a yearlong dispute between more than 100 employees and the company regarding the formation of a union and immigration issues. Some employees have been on strike since June 1, 2012.

After the workers requested that Palermo’s recognize their union and bargain with them, Palermo’s fired more than 75 workers, according to the union. But the company said it needed to separate the workers from employment in order to comply with federal immigration laws.

Milwaukee immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera has been leading a crusade against Palermo’s for alleged unsafe working conditions and intimidation related to attempts to form an employee union.

Eight of 116 former workers, one of which is already on the job, will be rehired and paid back wages as part of the settlement.

But there is still one outstanding case against Palermo’s, filed in March, that could block a union vote, according to Benjamin Mandelman, officer in charge at the NLRB in Milwaukee.

The complaint alleges Terry Cooper was threatened and unlawfully terminated by Palermo’s management for engaging in protected union activity over the last year. The case is currently under investigation.

In addition, a union vote would not likely be held until 60 days after the company has posted a notice to employees of its compliance with NLRB regulations, which was a stipulation of the agreement.

A representative for the workers said the company’s settlement with the NLRB shows it violated the law.

“As we have said before, Palermo’s Pizza repeatedly violated our rights to join a union,” said Raul de la Torre, organizing committee member of the Palermo Workers Union. “This agreement confirms that Palermo used threats, intimidation, surveillance, discrimination, and retaliation to deny the freedom to choose a union voice.”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, said the settlement is vindication that the company violated both immigrant and U.S. citizen rights, but that the workers already voted and a new election would be a “mockery.”

“They handpicked the workers they wanted for an election because they were able to exploit weak labor and immigration laws to retaliate and fire almost half of the workers that would have voted in that union election,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “A fair election is no longer possible. It’s a joke. It’s a travesty of justice.”

The group plans to continue its strike and boycott campaign against Palermo until the company agrees to settle with striking Palermo Workers Union members, she said.

Mike Bolton, United Steelworkers District 2 director, has been working with the fired immigrant workers and current Palermo employees.

“Unfortunately, they will be going back to jobs where union busters have created such an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that a democratic election is not possible,” Bolton said. “So for Palermo’s to claim they want a union election is a travesty of justice – they know that 75 percent of employees already expressed support for a union when they signed a petition calling for union representation over than a year ago, and that most of those workers – more than 100 former employees – will never get to vote because they were fired for speaking out.”

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