Milwaukee, WI – Over 50 students and community members rallied Feb. 6 at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) to demand an end to the sale of Palermo’s pizza on campus. The rally was organized by the Coalition to Boycott Palermo’s, which includes Youth Empowered in the Struggle, Students for a Democratic Society, the Alliance of History Graduate Students, the Hmong Student Union and the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association.
The rally was followed by a march around campus with several strikers, along with the participation of organizers from Voces de la Frontera and the United Steel Workers.
While, the march was going on, six UWM students began a sit-in at office of director of auxiliary operations, Scott Peak, and refused to leave until he agreed to remove Palermo’s pizza from campus. The occupiers plastered the walls of Peak’s office with pictures of the strike, Boycott Palermo flyers and other union flyers.
The marchers conducted several mic-checks along the route and stopped in the student union outside Peak’s office.
The students waited about two hours to speak to director Peak, who presented the University’s position that it would make no decisions about the on-campus sale of Palermo’s products until they got written documentation of the National Labor Relations Board statement on the pizza workers’ strike. While those conducting the sit-in waited, others did more mic-checks in the student union and went around campus spreading the word about the ongoing occupation through in-class announcements.
After Peak left his office, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Laliberte showed up and reiterated what Scott Peak said earlier, facing the wall with his back to the students. The sit-in lasted four and half hours, with a total of 15 students participating. No arrests were made, even as campus police hovered around the third floor of the student union, finally escorting the students from the office space.
This sit-in was the latest action done by the coalition to get Palermo’s pizza off campus. Before the sit-in the Coalition had already gotten the Student Senate and Faculty Senate to sign resolutions in solidarity with the strikers. They also collected over 1200 petition signatures, proving that the students and faculty are in favor of the boycott and want this corrupt corporation’s pizza off of their campus.
However, all that was done by the administration was the removal of the Palermo’s Pizza sign. They now market the product as simply “pizza,” allowing for customers to ‘make their choice.’ The sit-in was performed in hopes that the university would be forced to have to listen to the people.
Students for Democratic Society (SDS) organizer Tiffany Strong states, “The students and faculty are not being heard but instead the CEO is the only one being given the chance to speak. Our campus has a history of standing with workers’ rights and is affiliated with the WRC [Worker Rights Consortium]. The WRC has just come out with a statement finding Palermo’s under various violations. Hopefully with the WRC statement and the Coalition continuing to escalate, the pizza will finally be off our campus!”
The Worker’s Rights Consortium is an independent organization that monitors labor rights. It found that Palermo’s has violated U.S. and international law and the University of Wisconsin’s code of conduct in an illegal, ongoing anti-union and anti-immigrant campaign at the Milwaukee-based Palermo’s pizza factory and Roundy’s food stores.