There is a difference between making measured decisions and hiding behind bureaucratic hurdles. University of Wisconsin interim Chancellor David Ward’s tepid stance on the contract with Palermo’s Pizza clearly demonstrates the latter.
Allegations regarding worker compensation, safety and attempts to unionize at Palermo’s lead to a strike and spurred a National Labor Relations Board investigation. This has put the Wisconsin pizza company in the center of a controversy in which UW has a stake. A contract between UW and Palermo’s Pizza allows the Bucky Badger likeness on some of the pizza wrappers, and Palermo’s Pizza is sold and advertised at Badger football and hockey games.
In the past, labor violations have led to severed contracts. But last week, Ward said he “will review the committee’s request and respond accordingly to them. In the meantime, we have no plans to take any action.” He has made it clear that he will remain mum on cutting or keeping ties with the company anytime soon.
However, this matter has been festering long enough, and there is definite need for an answer. An internal investigation conducted by the UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee recommended that Ward put Palermo’s on notice, but he has neither complied with this recommendation nor given a clear reason why no further action has come from his office.
It is unclear whether Ward is leaving a nice little laundry list of problems for his successor or trying to stay out of an issue that is becoming bigger than the pizza slices sold at Camp Randall.
Charlie Sykes, a conservative Milwaukee talk radio personality, has been very vocal about telling his listeners and followers on social media to support Palermo’s by buying their pizzas as a retaliatory step against labor activists. Yet this issue goes beyond the dichotomy of pro or anti-union sentiment — it is a matter of peoples’ well-being in their workplace.
The University of Wisconsin is no stranger to cutting contracts with corporations: From Russell Athletics in 2009 to Nike in 2010, student labor activists have worked to ensure that UW forms partnerships with businesses that respect workers. Until recently, UW administration and student leadership have acted responsibly and vigilantly to end professional contracts when worker safety and fair pay were in question.
But it is time for a plan, which Ward has been withholding. Putting a company on notice does not amount to severing a contract — it is essentially a slap on the wrist. Considering that there is evidence that Palermo’s has breached labor laws and that these allegations have been substantiated by an internal investigation, Ward has no reason to hesitate in entering a discussion with the company.