On freeway overpasses at night strikers hold vigils with lighted placards that spell out “Boycott Palermo’s.”
“Since November 2011 workers at the plant have been openly gathering support for a unionization election,” Orlando Sosa, a leader of the strike and one of the initiators of the organizing effort, told the Militant.
On May 27, 150 workers met to sign a petition saying they wanted to unionize. Two days later they attempted to deliver it to management.
“The company refused to accept the petition,” said Sosa. Instead, two days later Palmero’s management gave letters to 89 immigrant workers requiring they verify that they have the right to work in the U.S. or face firing.
On June 1, more than 100 workers decided to strike against Palermo’s attack on their unionization campaign.
“Leading up to the strike we knew something was up,” Sosa said. “They had us training temporary workers to do our jobs. We were in the plant when the walkout started. The company locked the doors to try to keep people from leaving.”
Palermo’s bosses said they sent the letters at the insistence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who were conducting an I-9 audit. But on June 7, after complaints from labor leaders that these actions were interfering in the unionizing effort, ICE wrote the company that it had temporarily suspended enforcement. Despite the letter Palermo’s fired 80 workers the next day.
The issues in the strike, Sosa said, are decent working conditions, a wage raise, and dignity on the job.
“We got started in 2008,” Sosa explained. “We had a lot of complaints about discrimination, pay, health and safety, and other things. Everybody starts at minimum wage.” Workers are routinely scheduled to work seven days per week.
“When we complained, we were threatened. We started talking about what we could do and decided to call a meeting. One hundred fifty people showed up,” said Sosa. “That was how we began. We decided on our own to get organized.”
Since then workers from Palermo’s have been meeting weekly at Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant workers center, and recently affiliated with the United Steelworkers union.
In response to the company’s rejection of the petition demanding union recognition, the National Labor Relations Board scheduled an election, originally set for July 6, but currently on hold.
Meanwhile, the company has hired about 80 replacement workers who will be eligible to vote when the election takes place. Palermo’s is seeking to exclude the fired workers from voting.
Palermo’s did not return calls requesting comment.
Ninety workers are still on strike and picket daily for two hours to reach out and win workers still in the plant and inform others passing by. They chant, “No justice, no pizza.”
Messages of support and contributions can be sent to Palermo’s Workers Union, 1027 S. 5th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204. Telephone: (414) 643-1620.
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