Palermo's workers had been on strike, protesting what they called union-busting tactics by the company. The workers called on the frozen pizza manufacturer to back away from its threat to terminate employees -- and called on customers to boycott the company after over 75 employees were fired.
A Palermo's representative said the striking workers were no longer employees, because the federal government deemed them ineligible to work in the United States. However, the group of mostly Hispanic employees said they were given just days to come up with paperwork, and claimed they were fired because workers were trying to form a union.
Federal labor officials said Palermo's Pizza did not manipulate an immigration audit as retaliation for workers' efforts to form a union. Voces de la Frontera had filed a complaint, saying some workers were fired in retaliation for union-organizing efforts.
However, the NLRB did say Palermo's workers did face threats from the company. The company reportedly made threats to workers who joined in solidarity with fired workers, and fired nine employees who crossed the picket lines.
Palermo's declared victory following the NLRB's ruling Wednesday.
In a statement, Palermo's said: “Today’s announcement by the National Labor Relations Board dismissing all of the significant claims filed by Voces de la Frontera is a major victory for our workers and our company. The decision completely vindicates Palermo’s and reinforces our well-deserved reputation for being a responsible employer and a committed corporate citizen. It also validates that Palermo’s fully complied with all applicable labor and immigration laws."
With Wednesday's NLRB decision, Palermo's workers will now have the opportunity to vote and decide whether to form a union -- in an NLRB administered election.
“Today’s ruling also clears the way for our employees to have a fair and legal NLRB administered election. We always have supported our employees having the opportunity to vote, and we are pleased they will finally be able to do so. While we disagree with the interpretation of the minor technicalities the NLRB noted in its decision, we accept and respect the ruling and want an election to move forward promptly. Now, the only threat to an election is Voces de la Frontera and their continued negative campaign to hurt Palermo’s and Milwaukee. Voces de la Frontera should get out of the way and let the workers decide," Palermo's said in a statement.
Palermo's officials said Voces de la Frontera's efforts were the result of "baseless claims," and Palermo's officials said the NLRB's decision shows the actions the company took were appropriate and the company respected the rights of employees, as well as obeying the law.
Palermo's said: “The NLRB ‘s ruling has also seriously damaged Voces de la Frontera’s credibility in the community as it shows that their efforts were designed to give a bum rap to Palermo’s, our employees and the City of Milwaukee. The relentless, inappropriate and deceptive campaign mounted by Voces de la Frontera has hurt the community, and now it is time for it to end. Their baseless claims have been given due process of law by the Federal government and have been roundly rejected, so it is time for Voces de la Frontera to stand down and allow our employees to vote."
Meanwhile, Voces de la Frontera has said they will appeal the NLRB's decision.
"We are glad that today the Milwaukee regional office of the NLRB announced a decision finding that Palermo Villa, Inc. violated federal labor law. Palermo's treatment of its workers and its response to our exercising our right to organize for a voice in our jobs has been outrageous. Under today’s decision, a significant number of workers will get their jobs back and be awarded back pay because of Palermo's misconduct. The fact that Palermo’s Pizza is celebrating a National Labor Relations Board complaint of wide ranging violations of federal labor law illustrates just how out of touch they are - as well as how indifferent they are to the people who make Palermo’s Pizza. Responsible corporations do not celebrate findings that they broke the law," Voces de la Frontera said in a statement.
"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," Irv Gottschalk with the NLRB said.
"They have demonstrated to be retaliatory. They have hurt people. They have hurt people that have made them rich," Christine Neumann-Ortiz with Voces de la Frontera said.
With Wednesday's NLRB ruling, Palermo's is calling for an end to this fight, as fired workers vow to fight on.
"If an employee wants to return back to work, and they have the correct documentation, we will welcome our employees back. Voces de la Frontera should now get out of the way and let the workers decide," Palermo's President and CEO Giacomo Fallucca said.
"They have hurt those workers and their families, and they are in a heroic struggle. We are going to keep going until everyone comes back," Neumann-Ortiz said.