Palermo settles with NLRB

Milwaukee frozen pizza manufacturer Palermo Villa Inc. has settled its outstanding issues with the National Labor Relations Board.

The company announced today it 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.

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. In addition, Palermo will post signs about its adherence to labor laws that affect its employees.

In April the NLRB denied an appeal by the Palermo Workers Union of a ruling that cleared Palermo of all “significant charges” the group had filed.

Palermo’s has about 500 employees.

Fallucca said the company continues to support its employees’ right to unionize and it will respect the results of the vote, which can now be held.

“Our hope is that an election will mark the end of the false and misleading campaign that a small group has waged against our company for more than a year. This settlement and an election will help heal the wounds, and the time to start that process is now,” he said. “As (Milwaukee) Mayor Tom Barrett recently said, the fact that our country doesn’t have a clear national immigration policy created a twilight zone both for some of the workers and the company as well. Palermo’s was caught between two federal agencies with unclear policies, and we had no choice but to follow the law.”

Fallucca thanked the community for its support of the company. He said although there is evidence that supports the eight workers should not be reinstated, the company is settling in the interest of moving forward.

Voces put out a statement Tuesday afternoon championing the reinstatement of some of the striking workers and the company’s agreement to abide by federal labor 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 the new election is 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.”
Voces is glad the back pay will be awarded to the rehired employees, she said.

“Money is the only thing that’s been driving them, the only consideration, and money is the only thing they understand, so we are pleased that workers are finally getting some measure of justice which has meaningful enforcement, which is in the company’s pocket book,” Neumann-Ortiz said.

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

“The NLRB is forcing their hand at this point, but they still have a moral responsibility to sit at the table with the other workers that were also retaliated against,” Neumann-Ortiz said.

Mike Bolton, United Steelworkers District 2 director, has been working with the fired immigrant workers and current Palermo employees. He said today’s result was a small bit of positive news.

“It took much too long to get even this small bit of justice for these workers,” Bolton said.  “And 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. So for Palermo’s to claim they want a union election is a travesty of justice – they know that 75% 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.”

Several issues are still outstanding, Voces said, including the pending NLRB settlement with temporary employment agency BG Staffing, which employed several of the union supporters who were fired. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation regarding a recent employee amputation is also ongoing.

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