Palermo’s workers have been in the news during the past week. Half a dozen workers came from Milwaukee to testify outside Interim Chancellor Ward’s office Monday about abuses in their factory. Even though the university’s labor and licensing committee recommended six months ago that the chancellor cut the Palermo’s contract, their workplace remains unsafe, intimidating and without union representation.
We were all moved by the testimony of these factory workers, who shared that they are often forced to work seven days a week, sometimes for months on end. If a worker takes off more than three days in a six-month period, they may be automatically fired.
One worker testified that she was working long hours without any break until three days before she gave birth to her youngest son. Claudia said she was expected to staff multiple stations across the slick factory floor, meaning that she might slip while pregnant. When she took issue with the conditions of her work, she was told that if she couldn’t manage these tasks, she would be replaced.
These and other abuses, cataloged by the university’s own labor and licensing committee, blatantly violate the University of Wisconsin Labor Code of Conduct. The committee said Palermo’s must rehire all of the workers fired when on strike, enforce safety conditions and regular work hours and recognize the Palermo’s Worker’s Union in order to comply with the university’s code of conduct.
The National Labor Relations Board report to which Ward referred in his e-statement on Monday only upheld one of these conditions. The NLRB is a historically conservative body that was taken to international court in 2007 for not upholding workers’ established federal right to freedom of association. We believe it is the chancellor’s job to enforce all of the codes of conduct that govern our relationships with businesses, not just the convenient ones.
Ward and the university administration stood up for workers in Indonesia who were being mistreated in order to make more Bucky apparel. Why won’t he stand up for workers here at home who make Bucky’s official pizza?
The new chancellor provides a blank slate. We hope that we have been able to clarify the facts and put them into context for those who have not been following the issue since the Palermo’s workers went on strike more than a year ago. We were happy to see that this newspaper came out in an editorial to support rehiring workers, improving conditions and recognizing a legitimate union. We hope the new chancellor follows that lead.
Dena Ohlinger is a member of the Working Class Student Union. Niko Magallon is a member of the Multicultural Student Coalition. Nurys Uceta is a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztl?n.