National Boycott of Palermo’s Products Gains New Ground

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Click photo to see how a national boycott of Palermos is gaining traction

Click photo to see how a national boycott of Palermos is gaining traction

A national boycott of a pizza company that’s refusing to bargain with a newly formed union is gaining traction.

More than 150 people attended an informational picket outside of Costco in Grafton, WI on Saturday, August 25.  Community members, Voces de la Frontera and MICAH (Milwaukee Inner City Alliance for Hope) joined Palermo’s workers to hand out fliers to Costco customers and make a visible and audible presence calling for the boycott of Palermo’s products.

Workers of frozen pizza maker Palermo’s Pizza, located in Milwaukee, have been on strike for nearly four months because Palermo’s management has refused to recognize their independently formed union, Palermo’s Workers Union, as a legitimate bargaining unit.

Worker’s called for a national boycott of Palermo’s products beginning on July 29.  Since the start of the boycott, workers and their allies have been targeting Costco to stop purchasing Palermo’s products.  Weekly informational pickets have been occurring outside of Costco stores since the call for a boycott.

Initially, the pickets were being held at a couple of stores in Wisconsin, including Middleton (Madison suburb) and Grafton (Milwaukee suburb).  Saturday, August 25, was the first day of a nationally coordinated week of action of informational pickets outside of Costco stores.

More than 20 cities are participating in the informational pickets including stores in Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas.  A full list of locations can be found here.

Workers are targeting Costco because they are the largest distributor of Palermo’s products which includes pizza sold under the name of Kirkland Signature Pizza, which have yet to be pulled from Costco’s shelves.

Costco is also being targeted because of their business ethic standards that calls for the fair treatment of their employees as well as their vendor’s employees.  Costco’s code of conduct states that vendors must comply with all labor and environmental laws.

Currently, Palermo’s Pizza is facing unfair labor practice charges filed by workers who feel they were unlawfully terminated due to union organizing activity (more than 75 employees were fired).  The case is pending with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB.)

(Left: Roberto Silva, Palermo’s worker; center: Christine Neumann-Ortiz-Voces de la Frontera; right: Daniel Caamano, Palermo’s worker)

This is the second time since the strike began that workers have filed a petition with the NLRB.  The first case filed was for union recognition, as management refused to recognize their union, though about 80 percent of workers in the Milwaukee factory were in favor of unionizing.  The NLRB sided with the workers setting a ballot election for the union, that has since been pushed back because of the new complaint.

Support for the strikers and the boycott has gained national support beyond coordinated actions around the country, as the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) national, representing 12 million members, has endorsed the boycott.

Since the endorsement of the boycott, Palermo’s CEO Giacomo Fallucca sent a letter to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka asking to meet and discuss the labor dispute.  Falluca’s letter suggested that Costco had been in contact with Palermo’s about the dispute.  Trumka has welcomed the meeting with Fallucca, that is set for August 31.

Workers and supporting allies are hopeful the meeting will begin real negotiations with Palermo’s management.

In the meantime, workers continue their strike and boycott efforts for their union to be recognized.  The union organizing effort began due to workplace safety concerns, no paid sick days and a policy that if a worker missed more than three days of work in a six month period, even if they were sick with a doctors note, they would be fired.

A new concern has surfaced among many of the terminated employees, who are worried about the safety of the replacement workers that were brought in to fill their jobs.

Union organizers discuss their safety concerns and the response of Palermo’s management to accidents that occur at the factory.  Workers say that management threatens to take away a worker’s bonus if they are involved in an accident, creating an environment where employees are afraid to report accidents.

Workers say an employee working on the assembly line cut his finger but was afraid to report the accident and face negative repercussions.  The cut resulted in blood getting on the production line, going unnoticed until three pallets of pizza, containing about 550 pizzas, had been contaminated by the blood.  Workers say the pizzas were taken to a decontamination area and from there they do not know what happened to the pizza.

Workers say they will continue their strike and boycott in the face of several hardships caused by the strike for justice in the work place.  Daniel Caamano says “the owners will remember us for the rest of their lives.”

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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