The striking Latino workers walk the picket while shouting a mix of English and Spanish slogans through bullhorns. They march up and down the sidewalk in front of Palermo's Pizza's Milwaukee headquarters and factory, braving hot sun and onlooking security guards. They've been working to form a union since 2008, after a spate of serious health and safety violations at the plant. Ask any worker from the line and they'll cite some pretty egregious examples. They complain of a history of forced 70 to 80 hour workweeks, as well as accidents with machinery and repetitive stress injury. Making frozen pizzas is hard work, and the 300 or so predominantly hispanic workers want to form a union so that their voices can be heard regarding their workplace. That is all they are asking to do: form a union.
The strike is entering its third week. According to an article in Truth Out, two days after formally signing a desire to form a union, the workers
submitted signatures to management and asked the company to immediately recognize the union ("majority sign-up"). The company refused. The same day, Palermo's instructed employees to begin training replacement workers from a temp agency, and gave employees a letter stating that they had 28 days to verify their authorization to be working in the United States. Some workers went on strike that day.People interested in unionizing have been fired, terminated, laid-off. Palermo's management vehemently denies any cause-and-effect between their invocation of ICE related issues and the workers' desire to form a union. They state on their website:
"The company is retaliating," says Daniel Camano, "using ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to be able to get rid of all of us that have the most years at the company." Camano, an employee for nine years, says he was targeted and fired over alleged immigration issues. "This is motivating us to get more involved in the union."
During the past couple of weeks, a campaign of misinformation intended to generate ill will and punitive action against Palermo’s, its employees and customers has been initiated by a small group of activists.And to prove their good will regarding intimidation via ICE they planted this large bilingual banner in front of the factory.
That's the backstory. Even pizza is political here in Wisconsin. In support of these striking workers, The Overpass Light Brigade last evening chose the message BOYCOTT PALERMO'S to take out over I-94. I was pleased when enough people showed up to hold those letters, and even more pleased when volunteers kept arriving for our Bridge Party, swelling our ranks to 26. I was flabbergasted when another 18 workers from the picket arrived to hold the lights. It was a family affair, this new Fiesta del Puente, with kids, moms, dads, friends. The bridge was as crowded as a life well-lived, as Spanish and English intermingled, forming new conversations, new understandings, new alliances.
The County Sheriff who arrived was friendly. Rightwing blogs called him out on us. They hate that we are still visible, that we haven't gone home to our vermicomposting, organic gardens and recycling projects. He checked us out, shared a few words about not affixing the signs to the infrastructure and went on his way. Workers continued to arrive, but it was getting late - time to stage our dramatic exit. We explained to the new Holders of the Lights how we come off the bridge in procession and re-align in a good place for a final photo-op. It was powerful to see the lights in this night of workers. Our community is today a little bit larger, and the strikers don't feel so alone.
So, BOYCOTT PALERMO'S until they harmoniously resolve their labor issues. They make a decent product. They employ a lot of people. They are a solid Milwaukee company. My own family has frequently enjoyed their pizzas. I want them to thrive.
But not on the backs of the workers, and never through intimidation, or in the most generous interpretation, extreme and willful miscommunication.
There is more information about the strike at Voces de la Frontera website, where there is also a link to donate to the Striking Workers Fund.