Post-Recall Environment Sparks New Union Organizing

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Unions are far from dead in Wisconsin. Click image to watch a new one being born.

Unions are far from dead in Wisconsin. Click image to watch a new one being born.

Video By Katherine Quinn
The fight over unions is far from over in Wisconsin.

Governor Scott Walker may have fended off a recall prompted by his dismantling of public employee unions, but the fever the fed the recall is sparking new private sector organizing.

Palmero’s, a Milwaukee pizza factory that ships nationwide, will have a union election next month and the organizers say the immense public support for the recall gave the workers courage to organize.

“In the wake of the recall reelection that was bought and paid for by billionaire contributions, this struggle reminds us that you cannot buy people’s dignity,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera a group that is helping the workers organize. “That you cannot oppress people without any kind of resistance. And the struggle of the Palermo workers is that reminder. It’s that reminder that even the most vulnerable oppressed workers will resist and organize to win justice and rights in the workplace regardless of an election.”

Palermo’s management obviously doesn’t want union.

Strikers say Palermo’s has forced them to work sick or be fired. There have been complaints about how the company has dealt with injuries, fines from OSHA and allegations from workers the injuries were caused by the production line moving too fast.

Strikers allege Palermo’s is trying to bust the union by firing people who walk out, changing the locks on the doors and calling in federal immigration to check workers’ legal status. The company flatly denies those charges, but obviously does not want a union.

Company spokesperson Chris Dresselhuys told the Milwaukee Business Journal that the company would prefer to have “direct communications” with its employees instead of having to deal with a union.

“However, the employees absolutely have a legal right to organize if they wish,” he said.

The union organizing effort is getting the support of other unions. Randy Bryce, Political Coordinator for Iron Workers local 8 appeared at press conference for the Palermo’s union today and took issue with the Palermo’s statement that it treated its employees “like family,” saying that “It’s a very dysfunctional type of family that Palermo’s is raising if you ask me.”

“I have one comment with regards to a threat to call immigration and naturalization upon the workers. We don’t have a problem with illegal workers, we have a problem with illegal employers,” added Bryce.

The union is asking consumers to boycott Palmero’s products until the company comes to an agreement with the workers. The Milwaukee Riverwest coop has already agreed to join the boycott.

“We’ve served Palermo’s for a long time,” said Riverwest’s Nichali Ciaccio. It’s part of our mission to source locally whenever possible. But it is also part of our mission to source from labor-friendly places. And when it came down to it, in this situation, we had go ahead and side with the workers.”

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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