Police arrested and detained a University of Wisconsin-Madison student Monday after he engaged in a sit-in protest and rally with student and community groups to encourage the university to cut ties with Palermo’s Pizza following allegations of labor violations.
The UW-Madison Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee advised Chancellor David Ward in November 2012 to cut ties with the company following reports that Palermo’s workers had allegedly been fired when attempting to unionize as well as subjected to unsafe labor conditions.
However, the regional National Labor Relations Board in Milwaukee found a majority of the allegations lacked merit, a finding which the workers appealed to a federal NLRB branch. The federal NLRB denied the appeal Thursday based on lack of sufficient evidence.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. Monday, 12 protesters barricaded themselves inside the chancellor’s office as part of a sit in to pressure Ward into cutting ties with the pizza company. Student Labor Action Coalition member Claire Hintz said the protesters gained access when she approached the office and asked to “present something” to Ward, and the other protesters followed her in and locked themselves inside.
Hintz said the group staged the sit in to demand a written statement from Ward saying he would cut the university’s licensing contract with Palermo’s.
“Hopefully Chancellor Ward can feel the pressure of the students and the community, and by seeing how many people have rallied here today in support of the students that sat in that he needs to cut the contract with Palermo’s,” Hintz said.
After three hours of negotiating with the protesters to leave the premises voluntarily, UWPD removed the protesters from the building and arrested them with the exception of one student, UW-Madison senior Maxwell Love, who refused to leave the office and was arrested and detained for criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, according to UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott. Police later released him from custody.
“I was put under arrest ... and I wanted to go through the charges and I’ll deal with the consequences, but really it’s about the workers … It’s not about us,” Love said. “We were in the office to put pressure on Chancellor Ward to cut the contract for the workers.”
Ward released a statement to UW-Madison students after the sit in began and said “cutting ties with Palermo’s at this time is not warranted based on facts.” He also said the university will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate any new information that becomes available.
Additionally, UW-Madison junior Nick Checker said he believes the argument against Palermo’s has no factual basis.
“We go to the most liberal campus in the most liberal city in the state,” Checker said. “I think if there were actual merits for these accusations, the chancellor would sever these ties, but it’s absolutely been fabricated by these big labor activists.”
However, Love said the group will continue to protest the university’s contract with the pizza company, even after incoming Chancellor Rebecca Blank takes over the position.
“Blank is not starting off with a blank slate,” Love said. “She’s walking into a couple things here and I think it will be interesting to see how she responds to it.”