Left-Wing Politics Trump Jobs in Milwaukee Labor Dispute

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Science fiction author Robert Heinlein once observed, “A person who won’t be blackmailed, can’t be blackmailed.” In Milwaukee, Palermo’s Pizza is proving to be a company that won’t be blackmailed.

The company won a significant victory just before Thanksgiving when a mediator with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled against a complaint by Voces de la Frontera. The leftwing Latino organization had complained to the NLRB that Palermo’s fired 75 workers in retaliation for union organizing activities.

It was a complaint without merit. As NLRB mediator Irv Gottschalk told WITI-TV in Milwaukee when he rejected the complaint, “My conclusion is that the evidence does not show that it was retaliation for the union activity — that this really was because of the immigration issue.”

The NLRB did find that Palermo’s crossed the line by terminating nine employees for union activities, and those employees will be compensated accordingly.

The “immigration issue” was the result of an audit by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency. When Voces de la Frontera heard about the audit, they sprung into action, announcing that they were going to organize the workers into a union. According to Maria Monreal-Cameron, President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Voces de la Frontera even promised the fired employees that if they were unionized they could get their jobs back.

Making matters worse, Voces de la Frontera also called for a national boycott of Palermo’s because Wisconsin leftists love to try to hurt Wisconsin businesses with a boycott. It’s the default Blue Fist position, backed of course by the AFL-CIO.

Palermo’s responded to all of this organizing by calling for an employee vote on whether to unionize. Palermo’s can have some confidence in the outcome of the election, as Hispanic workers in 2011 were the least likely to be members of a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The only problem is that the election was being blocked by the complaint by Voces de la Frontera.

For Voces de la Frontera, the issue was less about organizing the workers than it was about having an immigration issue. If it had been about organizing the workers, they wouldn’t be blocking a vote. At the very least, Voces de la Frontera would have focused on the nine employees wrongfully terminated and not on reinstating the workers that did not enjoy proper immigration status.

But Voces de la Frontera was more interested in being able to use the situation to try to cause the NLRB to ignore federal immigration law and force Palermo’s to rehire the fired workers. Not surprisingly, the NLRB was not going to play their game.

However, Voces de la Frontera is not going to get out of the way of the election now. It is already promising to appeal the NLRB decision. It’s more important for Voces de la Frontera to have the issue and smear the reputation of a local employer than it is to actually have the vote to unionize.

So, the boycott may continue even though the company has been ready to accept a vote on unionization throughout this controversy. There is nothing the company can do to placate Voces de la Frontera unless Palermo’s is willing to violate federal law and rehire the workers illegally.

The behavior of local politicians concerning this issue continues to be shameful. Except for statements by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan, politicians in Milwaukee have either run from the issue or followed the lead of Voces de la Frontera.

They should be listening to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (HCCW), which has publicly come out in support of Palermo’s in this dispute. In an op-ed, HCCW President Maria Monreal-Cameron wrote, “In this economy, Palermo’s is precisely the type of company we should be putting up on a pedestal, rather than slandering. Milwaukee’s economy depends on these employers to innovate and grow their businesses so they can expand and hire more workers.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is missing an opportunity to show the business community that Milwaukee is willing to fight for them. Instead, Barrett is apparently content to let Palermo’s get bullied by a leftwing Blue Fist banner organization.

When this battle is over, Palermo’s may ask the Ray Donovan question and wonder where the company gets its reputation back. As State Representative Jocasta Zamarripa wrote in sympathy with Voces de la Frontera, “And Palermo’s will be infamous as the factory where scores of immigrants wanting to better their lives – like its owners, the Falluccas, not long ago — were fired under bogus anti-immigrant pretenses, and got away with it.”

Unsurprisingly, Zamarripa has not taken the opportunity of the NLRB ruling to apologize to Palermo’s or to try to heal the rift within her own community.

But Palermo’s perseveres. Even before the NLRB ruling, Cristine Neumann-Ortiz told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she was surprised that Palermo’s had taken such a hard line.

Apparently race hustling isn’t as easy as it used to be.