Over 150 Palermo’s plant workers take to picket line

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MILWAUKEE -- More than 150 plant employees of Palermo's Pizza walked off the job recently, to protest what they say are union-busting tactics. They're calling on the frozen pizza manufacturer to back away from its threat to terminate employees. The employees say they attempted to form a union, to address what they say is insufficient training, leading to safety concerns.

Palermo's workers say threats of termination and immigration audits began almost immediately after workers attempted to form a union in order to address safety concerns.

Palermo's officials say they were just working with a federal audit on immigrants.

"The allegations that have been leveled against Palermo's are categorically false," said Chris Dresselhuys with Palermo's Pizza. "Palermo's was contacted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency back in February of 2011 and told that they would be conducting an audit of our I-9 forms, which validate worker eligibility to work in the United States."

Palermo's says 89 of 450 employees had to show additional verification of work eligibility. Palermo's says it asked Voces de la Frontera -- an immigrants rights organization -- to help the employees through this process.

Dresselhuys said Palermo's was notified by ICE of the workers who's paperwork they had issue with. Those workers had to either provide the proper paperwork, or Palermo's was notified it could be criminally prosecuted for continuing to employ those workers.

"The claims of union busting are completely manufactured by Voces de la Frontera. There was no organizing effort within our business prior to the notification of the conclusion of the ICE audit," Dresselhuys said.

The employees operate heavy machinery in the course of their work, but due to what they say is insufficient training and management's demand for faster production, workers say they have suffered injuries on the job.

“In my three years at Palermo's, I've seen workers operate heavy, dangerous machinery with little or no training. Some machines lack sufficient safety protections. One day, my sleeve got caught in the machine, sliced open my pinky and I almost lost two other fingers.  When accidents happen, Palermo's always blames the worker.  Through a union, we can stop unnecessary injuries," one Palermo's worker said via a statement from Voces de la Frontera.

"You cannot oppress people without any kind of resistance, and the struggle of the Palermo's workers is that reminder, that even the most vulnerable and oppressed worker will resist and organize to win justice and rights in the workplace," Christine Neumann-Ortiz with Voces de la Frontera said.

The Palermo’s Workers Union is demanding that Palermo Villa recognizes the Palermo’s Workers Union, re-instate the workers who were fired or replaced for participating in the strike, and negotiate a fair labor contract.

A national boycott of Palermo’s Pizza is underway and gaining traction among consumers, small business owners and working people.

CLICK HERE for more on this story from the Milwaukee Business Journal.