MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin at Madison has been at the center of an ongoing dispute between workers rights activists and the Palermo’s frozen pizza company.
The University is engaged in a licensing agreement with the Milwaukee based pizza producer that allows them to use the famous ‘Bucky Badger’ logo of the UW. This frozen pizza product can be found at some of the largest sports venues in Wisconsin where students pack the stands to cheer on their beloved Badgers.
The only problem is Palermo’s troubling labor relations record. One that is so dreadful, and aimed directly at immigrants, that it stands in clear violation of the University’s own code of conduct rules when it comes to licensing, and the University’s own Labor-Licensing Committee has said so. This code was put into place to ensure the University not lend it’s good name and likeness to those companies that employ sweat shop labor or abuse their workers in other ways.
The Palermo’s company has been tangled up in an ongoing series of complaints ever since their workers sought to organize a union for the protection of their work place rights and wages. The pizza maker summarily dismissed those leading the effort to organize and some who were immigrants had their status used against them in a manner the National Labor Relations Board deemed illegal.
With this being the case, students, working families and faculty have all asked that the relationship with Palermo’s be terminated. At the last meeting of the UW Madison faculty interim Chancellor Ward was questioned directly why this relationship has not yet been severed. Ward replied he would wait for the final decision of the NLRB on one of the outstanding complaints against the company before taking any action. When the company came out on the winning side, Ward considered the matter closed.
Not being able to rely on either the bureaucrats in Washington or the administrators of their own campus to do the right thing student activists banded together and entered Ward’s office to force the issue. This resulted in a spontaneous ‘occupy’ of the Chancellor’s office. Almost a dozen students left voluntarily when campus police asked them to do so, but one refused. That student was cuffed and loaded into a van provided by the Madison police department. Students quickly and peaceably surrounded the van in an act of solidarity.
Sitting in a circle around the vehicle it had nowhere to go except over the students who were supporting the rights of workers and the good name of their own University. The police decided the better action was to cite the single student at the scene rather than to transport him to the local jail. He was then released to the cheers of his compatriots in the cause.
Next month interim Chancellor Ward will be replaced by Rebecca Blank, who most recently served as President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. No doubt these students will again raise the issue of fairness and judgment when it comes to lending the name of their University to the likes of employers who illegally exploit immigrants and thwart their efforts to the most basic right of collective bargaining.