University committee takes aim at Camp Randall’s controversial pizza provider

2012-11-10T07:15:00Z 2012-11-15T09:30:10Z University committee takes aim at Camp Randall’s controversial pizza providerPAT SCHNEIDER | The Capital Times |

The muscle of Bucky Badger could possibly get behind striking workers at Palermo’s Pizza.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Labor Licensing Policy Committee is recommending that the university move toward terminating contracts valued at more than $200,000 annually with the Milwaukee frozen pizza maker, whose products are sold at Camp Randall and the Kohl Center. The contracts also allow for the use of the Bucky Badger logo on Palermo’s pizzas sold in grocery stores.

“I think there is a lot of concern about how workers were treated” among committee members, Lydia Zepeda, chair of the licensing committee and professor of consumer science, told me Friday.

Palermo’s workers have been on strike since June. They claim in a charge to the National Labor Relations Board that Palermo's discriminated and retaliated against them after they tried to organize a union to address conditions that they say include dangerous machinery and a sick-day policy that forces them to go to work while ill. The workers say the company used an audit by immigration officials early this year to thwart their organizing efforts, then fired and replaced the workers involved.

The workers have called for a boycott on Palermo’s products, and that has become a major cause in labor circles around the country, drawing support from the AFL-CIO. Some retailers have backed it as well. Members of UW’s Student Labor Action Coalition and Teaching Assistants’ Association in October asked the university to terminate all business relations with Palermo’s until the labor dispute is settled.

Zepeda said the proposal backed Wednesday by the Labor Licensing Policy Committee is to ask interim Chancellor David Ward to put Palermo’s on notice that their contracts will be terminated unless the company hires back employees terminated in connection with the strike, recognizes the union and enters into a contract with workers within 30 days.

In the past, the committee has pushed the university to take a hard line on other companies it contracts with, particularly those that manufacture sportswear with the university’s logo.

A total of seven student groups now are pressing the UW licensing panel to declare that the pizza company’s treatment of its workers violates the contracts. Students pled their case Wednesday before the committee, whose members did not take a formal vote on the proposal, but agreed to draft a letter to be given to Ward early next week, Zepeda said.

“We’re trying to understand the facts of the case; it’s a very complex issue. We were told that there was urgency because the workers have been out since June,” she said.

In October, former Palermo’s worker Flora Anaya told committee members that she has not been able to find work to support her four children since going on strike and being fired by the company where she made $8.99 an hour making pizza dough. “I continue on the picket line, but it’s hard,” Anaya said through interpreter Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee-based advocacy group.

In a letter to Ward responding to students’ demand to cut ties with the company that was presented to the licensing committee then, a Palermo’s spokesman said the students were in a long line of organizations that “have been misled into supporting an effort by Voces de la Frontera to subvert U.S. immigration law and the rights of Palermo’s employees.”

Company marketing director Chris Dresselhuys said Voces “fabricated a dispute between the company and its workers” to get publicity and to spread unionization. He disputed worker claims of unsafe working conditions and lack of paid sick time.

Neumann-Ortiz told committee members that “the idea that Palermo’s is a neutral party in this is laughable. They have been paying for a very aggressive anti-union campaign.”

There are two agreements governing the sales of Palermo’s pizza at UW venues and use of the Bucky logo, Vince Sweeney, vice chancellor for university relations, told me recently.

Palermo’s sponsorship agreement with Learfield Communications, which partners with the UW Athletic Department and the Wisconsin Union, includes radio advertisements for Palermo’s products during broadcasts of UW athletic events and Palermo’s signs at athletic venues, Sweeney said. It also provides for Palermo’s Pizza to be sold at Camp Randall and the Kohl Center during athletic events and at Union South and a few other campus locations. The sponsorship is valued at $200,000 annually, he said.

The university also has a licensing agreement with Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., that allows it to use the Bucky Badger logo on pizza sold at Roundy’s stores. Roundy’s contracts with Palermo’s to manufacture the pizzas.

The licensing agreement generates royalties of about $8,000 a year, according to Sweeney.

He said Friday that the chancellor’s office is aware of the ongoing labor dispute, but he does not yet know the specifics of the committee’s proposal.

“This is a complicated situation with great variance and contradiction in the viewpoints expressed. As an institution, we will continue to monitor the situation, with particular attention focused on any information that may be made available by the National Labor Relations Board and other similar sources,” Sweeney said.

Zepeda said that the licensing agreement with Roundy’s has a code of conduct requiring companies producing products that carry the Bucky logo to follow standard labor practices. “There is a concern that there has been a violation of the code of conduct,” she told me. The sponsorship agreement is contingent on a valid licensing agreement, she said.

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(23) Comments

  1. SupportPalermos
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    SupportPalermos - November 13, 2012 5:21 am
    1. NLRB is currently reviewing unfair labor claims, has been since summer.
    2. NLRB doesn't allow hiring during investigation, could be seem as bribery.
    3. I-9's can be wrong due to clerical errors or fraud. Workers were asked to correct with Voces assistance, both chose not to correct.
    4. UW doesn't pay Palermo's, it allows Palermo's to use logo and sell at UW for a fee.
    5. $200,000 plus Palermo's pays to UW goes to fund operations and scholarships.
  2. MAGRN
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    MAGRN - November 12, 2012 9:55 am
    Kriley, we have 3 fords in our driveway, and I wouldn't be caught DEAD going to Wallyworld on black friday due to the picket lines that will be there, nor would I consider "Daddy Giovanni's" nor Polermo's (and my grandaddy was actually born there). So many of us lefties actually do have scruples. Voces de la frontera is not some terrorist group as Badger would have you believe. They speak for people who are being taken advantage of but who can't speak for themselves, and not because of the language barrier. Are you aware of the "goings on" down south? These hard working people work for weeks with no pay then are turned in by their employers to avoid paying them. Or sometimes they are killed. What is fair is fair. I applaud Voces de la Frontera in all they do. Oh and I guess your income should determine how many children one has? So maybe the tea party is correct then? Obama is MAKING women take the morning after pill? I'm just sayin....
  3. furryguy44
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    furryguy44 - November 11, 2012 1:02 pm
    I like your thinking.
  4. kriley
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    kriley - November 10, 2012 9:41 pm
    I'm glad that all the good lefties are finally becoming aware of workers rights other than their own. Does this mean you're going to get rid of your scab built Asian car and buy a ford or Chevy? I wouldn't bet the farm on it .
  5. Devastation608
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    Devastation608 - November 10, 2012 5:47 pm
    If they aren't living up to buckys standard than GTFO
  6. joe
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    joe - November 10, 2012 2:39 pm
    When they ban Apple and all other Chinese manufactured products, then the discussion can begin.
  7. joe
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    joe - November 10, 2012 2:36 pm
    This is something for the proper authorities to deal with. If laws were broke, they will deal with it. For the University to determine the company is guilty without due process is a bigger threat to this Democracy than any infractions Palermos is accused of. The University is completely and utterly irresponsible to even allow this stupidity to go this far.
  8. Badger for Obama
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    Badger for Obama - November 10, 2012 1:29 pm
    4 kids making $8.99 an hour? If that isn't a great illustration of why we need birth control, I don't know what is
  9. Mike_Smith
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    Mike_Smith - November 10, 2012 1:19 pm
    @ginrummy, you show your ignorance in your comment. It is against the law to even hire an Illegal Immigrant. Companies shouldn't have to do an audit. If they hired the person to begin with, the company is the one who broke the law. Any company found to have hired Illegal Immigrants should be prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law.

    Saying Palmero's pizza is pretty good shows that either you have no taste or you are one of the family.
  10. Badger for Obama
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    Badger for Obama - November 10, 2012 1:14 pm
    Let's look at the facts:

    1) No workers were fired because of a labor dispute. Workers were fired because they were here ILLEGALLY and are not eligible to work in the United States. If Palermos rehires these criminals, they will be breaking federal law.
    2) Palermos sought help from immigrant groups to HELP their workers get the correct paperwork in order to get eligibility to work in the United States, instead the hate group Voces de la Frontera decided to use this as an opportunity to gain political power.
    3) Voces de la Frontera uses Physical Intimidation and Property Destruction to spread their extremist views
    4) Palermos provides $15/hour, good health insurance, paid vacation and holidays, a paid retirement plan, and other great benefits to their workers and are routinely recognized as one of the top employers in Southeastern Wisconsin.

    This Barack Obama / Tammy Baldwin supporter is 100% behind Palermos, and demands that the police investigate the HATE group Voces de la Frontera for their crimes against the community. If UW wants to take a stand, they should ban Voces from Campus and disband any student organization that associates with this hate group
  11. IMHO
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    IMHO - November 10, 2012 11:13 am
    And here's your problem............

    Flora Anaya told committee members that she has not been able to find work to support her four children since going on strike and being fired by the company where she made $8.99 an hour making pizza dough. “I continue on the picket line, but it’s hard,” Anaya said through interpreter Christine Neumann-Ortiz

    Read more:
  12. joe
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    joe - November 10, 2012 10:25 am
    Slippery slope. Any purchases of Chinese manufactured products should be stopped as well. Including all Apple products. Ipads, Ipods and Macs should be banned from the University. The Chinese work conditions are much worse than Palermos, yet the University still buys their products.
  13. nan3
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    nan3 - November 10, 2012 9:16 am
    Sick people forced to work with food-what's wrong with a few viruses sneezed onto your pizza?
  14. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - November 10, 2012 9:06 am
    If the University is acting on this issue, they should also act on the asignment of their broadcast media rights for athletics to WIBA radio. The destructive demagoguery from their broadcast partner is far more harmful than the Palermo's Pizza issue. Every day the WIBA on air people spew vitriol, and yet many days and evenings there are the Badgers right next to them. This reflects much more poorly on the institutional values of the University than the Palermo business model.
  15. mojo
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    mojo - November 10, 2012 8:51 am
    Please clarify: 1) do you support of the UW divesting itself of investments in South African companies during apartheid? 2) do you support the UW not allowing its logo clothing to be made in sweatshops?
  16. 7time3
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    7time3 - November 10, 2012 8:37 am
    This has EVERYTHING to do with educating students!
  17. Mattila
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    Mattila - November 10, 2012 8:33 am
    If we let one employer intimidate and exploit their workforce, it becomes that much easier for the next one to do so. Workers, in this country, have rights.
  18. ginrummy
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    ginrummy - November 10, 2012 8:26 am
    I wish more companies would do immigration audits. Palmero's should be commended for this.

    Palmero's is pretty good pizza, but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy it.
  19. Mattila
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    Mattila - November 10, 2012 8:13 am
    No, for one example I mean locking employees in the workplace not allowing them to leave whereby the police were called to let them out. Check the facts.
  20. There is a world outside Dane County
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    There is a world outside Dane County - November 10, 2012 8:07 am
    nothing foolish. The university can do as they choose. I just suggest we ask tax payers do not have to fund them. I want my funding to go to educating students not labor relations. we fund other area of the state for those issues
  21. jon
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    jon - November 10, 2012 7:59 am
    By "unfair labor practices" do you mean complying with the federal aw that makes knowingly employing illegal aliens a felony?
  22. Mattila
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    Mattila - November 10, 2012 7:39 am
    What a foolish comment just made. Learn the specifics of the unfair labor practices Palermos is engaged in before spewing your crazy rhetoric. Walk the picket line with the good people being exploited by Palermos. Listen to their stories!
  23. There is a world outside Dane County
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    There is a world outside Dane County - November 10, 2012 7:22 am
    How about us tax payers putting the University on notice that if the want to keep acting this way why don't we pull our funding and let the be the private institution they are behaving like. There is a proper way for the State to be involved when it is a local issue as this is, this is not the proper way. I am asking the Governor to put the university on notice that tax payer funding should be cut if the keep getting involved like this.
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