Students called for Interim Chancellor David Ward to cut the University of Wisconsin’s ties with Palermo’s Pizza at an administration luncheon on Wednesday in an ongoing workers’ rights dispute which has sparked controversy from student groups.
About 20 members of the UWMad@Palermo’s Coalition confronted Ward during the annual UW Showcase with the presentation of a giant pair of scissors in an effort to push the chancellor to end a contract with Palermo’s Pizza, which violated the university’s code of conduct and allegedly also breached federal labor laws.
“We asked him, ‘Are you going to stand up for workers’ rights today?’ and his response was, ‘Not these workers, not today,’” Melissa Horsfall, a member of Student Labor Action Coalition, said. “That really bothers me because these workers make pizza that we sell at sporting events, that the university buys from the company, so if not these workers, then who?”
Palermo’s Pizza has a sponsorship contract with UW Athletics and the Wisconsin Union and is a supplier of Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., which allows the Bucky Badger logo on the pizzas.
Horsfall said students were frustrated by Ward’s inaction after a UW advisory committee recommended cutting the contract over Palermo’s code of conduct violations.
Members of UW’s administration did not respond for comment.
The UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee has been charged with reviewing the contract and sent a letter to Ward requesting he end the contract last November.
The National Labor Relations Board and the Worker Rights Consortium have separately investigated Palermo’s regarding issues in union formation, firing striking workers and health and safety violations.
WRC found Palermo’s guilty of violating UW’s Code of Conduct in February.
In a February statement responding to the Labor Licensing Policy Committee’s request, Ward said there are “clearly contradictory” findings between reports from NLRB and WRC. He said he would not take action until “further word regarding the appeal of the NLRB’s decision.”
Ward also cited that the national board decided the majority of the alleged labor law violations against Palermo’s lacked merit. The board’s November decisions have been appealed, a process not yet completed.
“We believe taking any action without final findings from the NLRB would be premature,” Ward said in the statement.
Labor Licensing Policy Committee member and UW sociology professor Jane Collins said the committee believes Palermo’s has violated the code of conduct for university licensees and that alone is enough to break the contract.
“We certainly would want to cut the contract if they had [violated federal labor law], but we are more concerned whether they violated our code of conduct,” Collins said. “Our code of conduct expects a lot more from our vendors than federal law does.”
Collins also said Ward is likely confusing the national board’s standards and the WRC standards. She added perhaps the chancellor has not had the time to study the issue closely.
“I understand that it’s the end of his term and he has not been able to give the issue the attention it deserves,” Collins said.
Allie Gardner, a director for United Council of UW Students, said many faculty members applauded the students’ actions at the showcase.
UW previously cut ties with Nike in 2010 after the company failed to respond to a series of labor law violations.
“The [Palermo’s] contract is worth more money [than Nike’s] and I also think it’s because we have a different chancellor and this chancellor is just choosing not to act,” Gardner said. “If Chancellor Ward wants to respect the value of the UW… He will cut the contract before his term ends.”
The sponsorship agreement with Palermo’s is estimated to be worth about $200,000.