More than two hundred people gathered outside of Bascom Hall Monday as a group of students staged a sit-in in the chancellor’s office to protest the university’s continuing contract with Palermo’s Pizza, which prompted the chancellor to issue a statement saying cutting ties with the company is “not warranted based on the facts.”
UWMad@Palermo’s is a coalition of students that has been protesting UW’s contract with the Milwaukee-based pizza company for about 220 days, starting when student leaders in the coalition heard about the Palermo’s alleged violations of worker’s rights.
The protest came on the same day the National Labor Relations Board sided with Palermo’s and against its workers union in a decision, saying the company did not commit labor law violations when it fired 75 workers last year.
Palermo’s 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 pizzas. In November, an advisory committee recommended Interim Chancellor David Ward cut ties with the company in response to allegations regarding issues with union formation, health and safety violations and the firing of workers on strike.
The student protesters, who have led multiple protests calling for Ward to cut the contract, organized a rally for 4:30 p.m. on Bascom Hill Monday, but 12 students started the protest early by staging a sit-in at Ward’s office.
The students entered the Office of the Chancellor around 2:30 p.m. and demanded Ward cut the contract, saying they would not leave the office until this happened.
More protesters congregated outside of the chancellor’s office, and as more students came into the building, UW Police Captain of Field Services Johnnie Diamante notified them they were committing unlawful assembly within the building and could be arrested if they did not leave voluntarily.
People eventually began to move outside of Bascom Hall to begin the planned rally, and speakers urged the crowd to focus on the goal to cut the Palermo’s contracteven though the people sitting in the office might get the most attention.
Around 5 p.m. the 12 students inside of the chancellor’s office were bound with zip ties. UWPD officers told the students they could either be arrested or leave the office on their own terms.
Eleven of the students left voluntarily, but one student, Maxwell Love, told the police he would not leave and they should arrest him.
UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott said Love “insisted on being arrested” and was charged with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest.
Love was placed in the back of a police van, and protesters surrounded the van to prevent the officers from taking Love to the station.
UWPD eventually released Love from the van and gave him the citations instead of taking him to the police station.
Jeremy Levinger, one of the 12 students inside the office, said he was ashamed to call himself a Badger since Palermo’s was still the official pizza of Bucky Badger.
“This university supposedly prides itself on caring, and it clearly doesn’t if we’re contracting with businesses that resemble sweatshops,” Levinger said.
According to Lovicott, Ward had left for a meeting and was not on campus for the entire afternoon.
In a UW statement, Ward said UW “will continue to monitor events related to the dispute between Palermo’s and the workers and will evaluate any new information as it is made available.”
Alex Rezazadeh, a member of Student Labor Action Coalition, said when Ward was chancellor during the 1999-2000 school year, a similar incident happened with students protesting outside his office.
During Ward’s first term as chancellor, students protested the university’s sweatshop guidelines, and Wardhad 54 students arrested and pepper sprayed, she said.