The Badger Herald , February 7, 2013 at 7:00:00am

Palermo's, UW clash

by Tegan Vail

Frustrated Palermo's Pizza employees and members of two workers' rights groups held a candle vigil outside the University of Wisconsin chancellor's mansion Wednesday to protest alleged university code of conduct violations.

Student Labor Action Coalition and the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin members joined Palermo's staff outside of Interim Chancellor David Ward's residence to protest his inaction regarding labor violations the Worker's Rights Consortium found Palermo's guilty of.

Around 20 people attended the vigil. However, Ward himself was not one of them. According to Lydia Zepeda, UW consumer science professor and Labor Licensing Policy Committee chair, Palermo's is violating the code of conduct in many ways. The major infractions include issues in union formation, the firing of striking workers and health and safety violations.

In November, Ward said he would give the case consideration and would take appropriate actions based on the evidence available.

"[I] will review the committee's request and respond accordingly to them. In the meantime, we have no plans to take any action," he said.

Ward has remained silent about whether he will maintain or cut ties with the company in the indefinite future.

For the last eight months, Palermo's workers have been on strike while the WRC investigated the violations. WRC found Palermo's guilty of violating UW's Code of Conduct Tuesday.

At the vigil, Jesus Gaona, Palermo's employee of 10 years, said he would like the chancellor to support cutting the contract with Palermo's because he thinks it would push the business in a direction of positive change.

"We really need to put an end to this type of abuse in the work place once and for all," Gaona said.

The vigil was an attempt to see immediate action from Ward by presenting him with a letter from the Palermo Workers Union addressing the WRC report.

The letter said Palermo's had engaged in illegal activity and denied its workers rights. The letter also asked UW, as a worker's rights advocate, to recognize Palermo's employees make a product bearing the name and logo of UW. The employees hope UW will step forward and affirm the violations to the code of conduct are unacceptable.

Palermo's workers attempted to present the letter to the chancellor, but instead, UW Police Department Assistant Police Chief Brian Bridges appeared in his place.

Bridges said he would get the letter to the right spot but added he did not see it appropriate for the group to convene in such a way.

Vigil members were ultimately unable to directly confront Ward, who has previously said the university is monitoring the situation. Ward has also said he is reviewing the LLPC request to put Palermo's on notice but UW has no concrete plans yet.

While the violations angered the Palermo's employees, they said they have also affected UW students.

"It really upsets me that our university [has been] affiliated with a company that is so bad to its workers," UW freshman and SLAC member Cornell Zbikowski said.

Students at the vigil also generally agreed Bucky should not be a symbol of a company so willing to violate the rights of Wisconsin workers.

According to SLAC member Lingran Kong, the organization worked throughout the fall semester to get the chancellor's help with cutting the contract but he has essentially disregarded Palermo's violations.

"We have all of this support on campus and in the community that wants to see the contract cut, and yet Chancellor Ward is sitting around doing nothing. We want to see immediate action," Kong said.

SLAC home page

Palermo's campaign