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Will the Palermo Villa Pizza Impasse End Soon?

Pizza maker and union may be settling some of their differences

Dec. 5, 2012
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The long-simmering stalemate between pizza maker Palermo Villa and its disaffected workers may be coming to an end—or not.

Last month, an investigation led by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) resulted in a mixed decision on a host of complaints filed by Palermos Workers Union (PWU) against the Menomonee Valley-based Palermo Villa.

The PWU has been attempting to be recognized as a union, but a vote on its status has been delayed pending the NLRB’s investigation into the workers’ unfair labor practices claims.

In the meantime, PWU, heavily supported by immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, organized a strike and a national boycott of Palermo’s products.

In a verbal decision before Thanksgiving, NLRB Regional Director Irving Gottschalk told the two sides that Palermo had illegally fired five or six employees who had wanted to join the strike and that the company should restore their jobs. Gottschalk also found the Palermo and its temporary staffing agency had illegally told workers that they would lose their jobs if they went on strike.

But in a written decision last week, Gottschalk stated that the NLRB found that Palermo did not use an immigration audit and a request for federally required work authorizations as a way to interfere with and retaliate against union organizing, nor did it improperly fire 75 employees who did not provide required work documents or hire temporary workers as a way to chill unionization. The dispute over the five or six employees who should be rehired and Palermo’s illegal statements to workers were not mentioned in Gottschalk’s Nov. 29 letter.

Gottschalk wrote that the remaining unfair labor practice allegations could be remedied easily and a vote on unionization could proceed.

The PWU is appealing the decision to dismiss their complaints, which will postpone the vote on unionization once again. The deadline for the appeal is Dec. 13.


Palermo Offers To Rehire Four Workers

Both sides claimed victory after Gottschalk’s verbal decision and a settlement is in the works for the employees who the NLRB found had been illegally terminated.

A statement released on Monday by Voces de la Frontera read, “The proposed settlement acknowledges that the company violated federal labor law by intimidating, interfering, threatening, and creating the impression of surveilling workers who supported unionization.”

Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz called Palermo’s actions “union busting” and said that perhaps as many as five additional workers were similarly fired and could potentially be part of the settlement.

But Chris Dresselhuys, Palermo’s director of marketing, said that while the company is offering to re-hire four employees, the company has made no admissions about intimidating or harassing pro-union employees.

He said the company is committed to working with the NLRB to work through the disputed issues.

“The thing that we are interested in is giving our employees the opportunity to have a vote,” Dresselhuys said. “And Voces de la Frontera has been standing in the way of that vote.”

If or when a vote on unionizing will take place, both the Voces de la Frontera-backed Palermo Workers Union as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1473 will appear on the ballot as options for workers. The workers will also have the option of voting not to unionize.

One issue is who, exactly, can vote in the election. This summer, Dresselhuys said, the NLRB added the replacement workers to the list of voting employees and removed the strikers from the list of eligible voters.

Neumann-Ortiz said she didn’t think an election without the striking workers would be a fair one, since they represent a large portion of the production department.

She said that she had no evidence that the company and its striking workers were close to settling their differences.

“They have refused to meet with workers,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “They won’t even acknowledge them.”


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