Students and community members calling for university to boycott products
Over the last few days, The UWM Post has received a string of emails from students and community members expressing concern over UW-Milwaukee’s stance – or rather, lack of a stance – toward Palermo’s Pizza and its striking workers.
In June, roughly half of the workers at Palermo’s Pizza – which is a Milwaukee-based frozen pizza manufacturer – went on strike following the firing of 89 employees that lacked the necessary documentation to prove their legal work status. Workers said these firings were in retaliation to a signed petition to form the Independent Palermo Workers Union, which demanded better pay and working conditions for employees.
A number of groups have voiced their support for the workers, including Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee-based immigration rights organization, the Overpass Light Brigade, the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association, the Association of History Graduate Students, Students for a Democratic Society and Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES!). However, even though UWM has a Palermo’s restaurant in the Union that sells ready-made pizzas, the university itself has chosen to remain silent.
Community concern mounted after the Student Association senate session scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012 was canceled because the Senate would have failed to meet quorum, or 50 percent plus one of the filled senate seats would not be able to attend. At the meeting, a resolution demonstrating the SA’s support for the Palermo’s workers, as well as a call to action to the university to pursue other pizza vendors was to be voted on. At least a dozen UWM students and community members in support of the resolution showed up to the meeting, only to find that there would not be one.
The SA sent out an email at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday stating that the 6:00 meeting would be canceled. No posting was made to the board outside the SA office. Per Wisconsin open meetings law, notice of a canceled meeting must be posted at least 24 hours ahead of time, unless there is good cause not to, in which case it must be, at minimum, two hours ahead of time.
Some emails to the Post have speculated that the SA senate canceled the meeting in order to prevent passage of the resolution. This is only speculation, but, either way, the SA owed better to the people that showed up. This issue has aroused the most student and community engagement at an SA meeting all semester. The people that have invested a lot of time and energy in this cause deserve better than a one and a half hour email notice.
Part of the SA resolution was a call to action to the university to boycott Palermo’s products and pursue other pizza vendors. UWM does not get the pizza it sells in the Union directly from Palermo’s, but rather through a contract with Reinhart Food Services. This partnership leaves the door open for UWM to look at other pizza brands provided through Reinhart.
Some readers have questioned why UWM has remained silent when the university has a history of standing up for worker rights. For example, in 2004, UWM stopped selling Tyson products until a labor dispute was settled. Around ten years ago, the university joined the Worker’s Rights Consortium, which protects the rights of workers who produce apparel with college and university logos. UWM has also endorsed the Global Sullivan Principles, which pursues the protection of human rights.
Despite all of this, UWM has opted for neutrality. However, too many students and community members are now clamoring for UWM to take a leadership role; the time has come for the university to take a stance on the issue. So, UWM, are you willing to boycott Palermo’s products and support the striking workers or are you going to continue to sit on the fence?