Dozens of plant workers at Milwaukee-based Palermo’s Pizza are on strike and say the company has engaged in union-busting tactics as employees tried to form a union, according to Voces De La Frontera, an immigrant rights group and low wage worker center that is working with the Palermo’s employees. The workers walked off the job 15 days ago.
However, a spokesman for the company strongly denied the union-busting allegations.
“We recognize employees’ legal right to unionize,” said Chris Dresselhuys, director of marketing for Palermo’s. “If it is truly the will of the employees to form a union that democratic process will play itself out.”
A petition to recognize the union has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board and workers are scheduled to vote July 6 on forming a union.
The number of workers on strikes is estimated at 150 by Voces De La Frontera, but the company estimates the number of employees on strike at about 70.
The workers wanted to form a union because of safety concerns at the Palermo’s plant, said Voces De La Frontera spokesman Joe Shansky. They want to form an independent union called the Palermo’s Workers Union, Shansky said.
Allegations of safety problems at the plant are untrue, Dresselhuys said.
“Our safety rating is excellent,” he said. “This is just another baseless allegation they are putting out there to unionize our plant.”
Shansky said the company has terminated about 10 employees and has conducted immigration audits of its workforce in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate workers from forming a union.
But Dresselhuys said the immigration audits began last year and were initiated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ICE review indicated that the federal government had concern about the “employment eligibility” of about 119 employees, 89 of which still worked for the company, Dresselhuys said. Some employees were able to provide additional documentation to clear up their employment eligibility, but others who were unable to do so were “separated” from the company “per ICE guidelines,” he said.
Shansky said the company has brought in replacement workers to take place of the striking workers.
Dresselhuys said some workers have been hired to replace workers who left their jobs.
However, he said the striking employees would “absolutely” be welcomed back to work if they chose to return.
In the meantime Palermo’s will wait for the July 6 unionization vote and denies many of the accusations made about the company, Dresselhuys said.
“A number of patently false accusations have been made about the company,” he said. “We are prepared to aggressively deny them by all legal means.”
More information and a video about the Palermo’s labor dispute can be seen at the Voces De La Frontera web site.