WRC Factory Investigation

Palermo Villa, Inc.

Factory: Palermo Villa, Inc.

Key Buyers: Al's, Angelo Caputo's Fresh Market, Berkot's Super Foods, Brookhaven Market Place, Butera's, Costco, Danville County Markets, Fair Share Foods, Fairplay Foods, Fairway Foods, Festival Foods, Garden Fresh, Gordy's, Harris, IGA, Mega, Open Pantry, Pay Low, Pete's Markets, Q-Mart, Roche Bros, Roundy's Supermarkets, Sara Lee Outlet, Schierl Oil Co, Sendiks, Spartan's, Sun Fresh, Sunset Foods, Super K, Super Low Foods, Teeter, Tony's Finer Foods, Trigs, Ultra, Valli Produce, Walt's, Winder Farms, Wiseway, Woodman's Market

Last Updated: 2013

Case Summary

Palermo is a supplier of frozen pizza bearing collegiate logos to Roundy’s, a Milwaukee-headquartered supermarket chain that is a university licensee, and is party to purchasing agreements with several other WRC affiliate schools. Through its production for Roundy’s of pizzas sold in packaging bearing university logos, Palermo is subject to university codes of conduct for trademark licensees. The WRC launched this inquiry in response to a complaint by a group of Palermo workers alleging that, in early June 2012, the company carried out a mass dismissal of employees, as well as other labor rights violations, in retaliation for the workers’ effort to organize a union at the company’s primary manufacturing facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The workers who were terminated were engaged in a strike that began June 1, 2012.

The WRC’s inquiry determined that, as alleged, Palermo has committed serious violations of worker rights and that these violations remain ongoing. Substantial evidence indicates that Palermo used an audit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a pretext to terminate, on June 8, 2012, approximately 75 striking workers. Although it appears the Palermo did not initiate the ICE audit, the company manipulated the audit process to thwart a unionization drive by shortening the period the company afforded employees to provide documents demonstrating work authorization and then terminating these and other workers eight days later for failing to do so. Palermo fired these workers, even though ICE, acting pursuant to a federal inter-agency policy meant to prevent manipulation of its audits to undermine employees’ labor law protections, had stayed its enforcement action in this case. As we discuss in this report, the timing of the dismissals immediately following the unionization drive, coupled with a range of other antiunion actions by this employer prior to the terminations – some of which themselves violate university codes – provide compelling evidence that the dismissals were the result of the company’s antiunion animus, making them unlawful under both U.S. and international labor standards.

The WRC concluded that the company must take two key steps to comply with university codes of conduct. First, Palermo must promptly reinstate the striking employees it terminated or permanently replaced employees, with full back pay. If ICE later lifts its stay, the company should comply with its directives in a non-retaliatory fashion at that time, affording the affected employees all opportunities to establish their authorization to work that the agency permits. Second, as outlined further below, the company should recognize the results of an independent review of the union’s claim of majority representation. If such a review finds that a majority of the plant’s workers supported unionization at the time the union petitioned it for recognition – prior to the company’s retaliatory dismissals and other violations of their associational rights – the company should negotiate in good faith with the union toward a collective bargaining agreement.

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