A University of Wisconsin committee is in the process of re-evaluating the university’s contract with Palermo Pizza as investigations of Milwaukee food company’s alleged labor violations continue.
The UW Labor License and Policy Committee has been charged with addressing issues concerning the university’s licensing agreements and other labor issues with Palermo Pizza, LLPC Chair and UW consumer science professor Lydia Zepeda said in an email to The Badger Herald.
According to Zepeda, the committee must decide on how to advise the university’s actions toward Palermo Pizza, as the company is in both a sponsorship agreement with UW Athletics as well as an indirect licensing agreement through Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., which allows the Bucky Badger logo on the pizza.
The sponsorship agreement is estimated to be worth about $195,000 royalties from Bucky Badger pizzas reached nearly $7,000 this past year, Zepeda said.
“The LLPC is understandably concerned about workers anywhere being mistreated and how this reflects upon the reputation of UW, since these products bear our name and we profit from them,” Zepeda said.
Palermo’s Pizza is currently under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for violating labor laws involving firing of workers for union organizing, Zepeda said. The NLRB investigation shows Palermo’s Pizza’s workers have been trying to organize a union since 2008 to address their safety, overtime and pay concerns, and Palermo’s Pizza has refused to allow it, she added.
Lingran Kong, Student Labor Action Coalition and the LLPC member, added that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has investigated and fined Palermo Pizza’s thousands of dollars for health and safety concerns in the past.
However, according to Kong, Palermo Pizza’s most outstanding violation on the worker’s rights has been an inability to form a union.
“Perhaps [the] most important, blatant violation that has occurred on this case is … concerning the freedom of association and collective bargaining, which states that they will respect and recognize the right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining, which Palermo’s has, in the course of half a year, clearly violated,” Kong said.
According to Zepeda, the committee is re-evaluating the contracts and agreements to ensure all subcontractors meet UW’s labor standards.
“The licensing agreement requires Roundy’s and all its subcontractors to uphold the UW’s Labor Codes of Conduct,” Zepeda said. “These Codes of Conduct outline the UW’s commitment to fair wages and work hours, [and] workplaces safety, among other things.”
As part of the review, Zepeda said LLPC has spoken firsthand with Pizza Palermo’s workers about the alleged violations, including stories of excessive work hours, safety violations and the firing of striking workers.
According to Kong, SLAC would like to see the university cut ties with Palermo’s by the end of the semester, a sentiment that she feels LLPC will echo.
“The committee wanted the university to give Palermo’s a 30 day period for them to remedy their situation,” Kong said. “Otherwise, we’ll recommend the university part ways just because this is a time sensitive issue. We’re hoping to see some concrete action taken on behalf of the university by the end of the semester.“
According to Kong, SLAC has been helping the workers in their efforts by joining them on the picket lines in Milwaukee, delivering letters to staff at the university and trying to raise student awareness.
Vice Chancellor of University Relations Vince Sweeney said although no formal motion has been put forward, the university is aware of the situation and is monitoring it as it continues.