Strikers Say Pizza Biz Tries To Bust Union With Immigration Status Threats

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Click image to watch Roberto Silva (left) and Daniel Mercado discuss their organizing efforts, with Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera

Click image to watch Roberto Silva (left) and Daniel Mercado discuss their organizing efforts, with Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera

If you’re going to unionize, we’re going to essentially sic the Federal immigration agents on you — that’s what workers at a Wisconsin frozen pizza factory say management is threatening because they have formed a union.


Workers at Palermo’s Pizza of Milwaukee at 3301 South Canal street, near Miller Park, are now in their sixth day of a strike because management refuses to recognize their newly formed union as a legitimate bargaining unit. The company makes frozen pizzas that are shipped all over the country.

In the video that goes with this story Roberto Silva (left) and Daniel Mercado discuss their organizing efforts, with Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera translating and explaining her support for the workers.

The two say a new policy implemented by Palermo’s last October prompted the union movement. Management declared if people missed three or four days of work they would be automatically fired. Silva says that has forced people to work on preparing pizzas and other foods while they are sick which raises the risk of contaminating the food. Workers say there are no paid sick days and their work weeks can sometimes be as long as 90 hours, leaving no time for a personal life.

“We want to have a voice in the workplace because all of the policies they are passing is all in their interest,” Silva said through an interpreter. He says management has listened to the complaints, but hasn’t done anything to fix the problems. “We want to be heard and that’s why we want a union.”

Union calls for consumer boycott against Palermos

Mercado is asking the public to boycott Palermo’s. He says people should call the company and say they are not going to buy the company’s pizzas if Palermo’s doesn’t recognize the union. He says the company’s number is (414) 643-0919.

181 workers have signed a petition to join the independent union, Palermo’s Workers Union, about 80 percent of workers at the Milwaukee location. Management has refused to recognize their union, though the National Labor Relations Act (signed in 1935) requires that employers recognize a union if more than 30 percent of the employees are in favor of unionizing.

Workers have submitted their case to the National Labor Relations Board to step in to require Palermo’s to recognize their union.

Management at Palermo’s has implemented several tactics to break the union organizing efforts, including physically blocking an exit at the factory so workers cannot join the strike, threatened termination of people participating, bringing in replacement workers as well as threatening to check workers legal immigration status through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) I-9 employment verification form.

According to the USCIS Web site: “All U.S. employers must complete and retain a Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States. This includes citizens and non-citizens. On the form, the employer must examine the employment eligibility and identity document(s) an employee presents to determine whether the document(s) reasonably appear to be genuine and relate to the individual and record the document information on the Form I-9.”

Temp workers at the company have also joined in the efforts to unionize, facing another form of retaliation by the threat of being blacklisted if they join the strike effort.

The UpTake has contacted Palermo’s for a statement, but so far it has not responded. a company spokesperson did finally return our call, but he did not take any questions. Instead the company has issued a “media statement” which is included below. The statement carefully avoids talking about any strike other than a reference that the company hopes “employees will be able to return to work.”

Video above: Roberto Silva and Daniel Mercado discuss their organizing efforts
Video below: Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera discusses why she supports the strike.

Palermo’s Media Statement
June 8, 2012

During the past couple of weeks, a campaign of misinformation intended to generate ill will and punitive action against Palermo’s, its employees and customers has been initiated by a small group of activists.

The group has manufactured controversy where none existed in a shameful attempt to manipulate our employees into harming the company.

Palermo’s was contacted by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and asked to submit employee I9 forms for an audit. We complied with their request as we would with any state or federal agency. After its review, ICE alerted us to the fact that some of our employees needed to re-validate the information they provided us when they were hired.

Although Palermo’s is a third party to this federal action, the company took steps to help ensure that the resources employees needed to quickly remedy their individual situations were made available to them.

The activists took this as an opportunity to use our employees for their own gain and have been publicly accusing the company of unfair labor practices; a stunning deception that is false on every level. Especially egregious is their allegation that Palermo’s took retaliatory action against employees attempting to organize.

At no time in the company’s history have complaints of this nature been voiced, and we are proud of the family atmosphere we’ve been able to create—largely due to our talented and loyal employees.

It is our hope that all of our employees will be able to return to work. We want them here and value the contributions they’ve made. Until that time we will continue to communicate the truth about the baseless accusations currently being made, and defend the company by all legal means necessary.


In an unexpected move, US Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) has sent Palermo’s Pizza and Voces de la Frontera a letter stating they will no longer require I-9 employment verification forms from Palermo’s employees, for the time being.

Text of the letter follows:

“At this time, ICE will stay further action regarding its Notice of Suspect Documents.”

ICE has backed off during this labor dispute, showing that the I-9 forms were never about a matter of immigration, but a tactic of Palermo’s management to break the union organizing efforts.

Tracey Pollock

Tracey Pollock, a native of River Falls, Wis., studied journalism at UW-River Falls and finished her education at UW-Milwaukee with a focus in sociology. She is interested in covering social justice issues and shedding light on issues in a way that corporate media will not undertake. Pollock lives in Milwaukee, where generations of her family have resided. She enjoys the local music scene, bicycling and camping.

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