Palermo's employees march 18 miles to owner's home

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Several members of the Palermo Workers Union, along with allies from across Wisconsin, walked 18 miles from the Palermo's Pizza factory in Menomonee Valley to the home of co-owner Angelo Fallucca in Mequon.

The march began around 8 a.m. Saturday, June 1st. There were several rest stops planned along the way, with guest speakers and entertainment.

The group said they had no choice but to go to Fallucca's doorstep in order to seek out a peaceful, negotiated settlement in their longstanding dispute. They insist the march was an honest effort at a dialogue.

"It's not a PR spin," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera. "This is because an injury to one is an injury to all and that's how everyone who is supporting the workers feels."

The dispute dates back to 2011 when Federal Immigration Officials told Palermo's it had found employees who weren't eligible to work in the U.S. Palermo's said they would have hired those workers back had they attained legal working status.

Voces de la Frontera, which has been supporting the fired workers, says Palermo's was retaliating against workers who tried to form a union.

"We can't have employers like Palermo's game the system so they can exploit immigrant labor and then use immigration enforcement laws to get rid of those workers when they assert their rights in the workplace," said Neumann-Ortiz.

The National Labor Relations Board and immigration officials have since ruled that Palermo's did nothing wrong when firing the workers.

Palermo's spokesman Evan Zeppos said "The facts are the facts. Two National Labor Relations Board decisions, one federal immigration decision. People want to say differently, that's O.K."

Palermo's says it wants employees to vote on whether or not they want a union.

"The opponents continue to delay a vote; we think that's shameful. We think there ought to be a chance for the workers to have their say in it and we will respect whatever decision they make," said Zeppos.

Neumann-Ortiz responded, "After the firings, they obviously created a climate of fear that makes a fair election impossible."

More than 50 community groups co-sponsored the "March for a Slice of Justice" and recruited members to walk in solidarity with Palermo's workers.