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University of Wisconsin Brass Caught in Crosshairs

Controversies over the $648 million reserve fund and the $600,000 Palermo's Pizza deal are bedeviling University of Wisconsin leaders.

It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for Rebecca Blank, incoming chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 Sure, the acting U.S. commerce secretary, set to start in July, will make $500,000 a year — plus benefits and perks, including a university residence and car, money for travel and entertainment, and an unpaid academic appointment for her husband.

But she’ll be stepping into a host of controversies, drawing flak from all directions. As one UW-Madison student quipped, “Blank is not starting off with a blank slate.”

Lawmakers cry foul over UW's reserve

There’ll be ongoing fallout from some legislators’ volcanic eruptions over revelations that the UW System has a $648 million reserve fund. Though this is in line with other state systems, Wisconsin politicians are “disgusted.” Observers expect a two-year tuition freeze and the axing of some or all of the additional university funding proposed in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-15 budget.

The UW-Madison is also under fire over its ties to Palermo Villa of Milwaukee, which makes Palermo’s Pizza.

A strike was launched last June 1, days after about three-fourths of the factory’s 200 production workers signed a petition seeking to unionize. About 75 workers were fired when they were allegedly unable to verify their immigration work status; others were terminated for other reasons.

Around this time, Palermo’s inked a three-year, $600,000 deal under which its pizza is sold at Kohl’s Center and Camp Randall events, and promoted in those venues and elsewhere. A separate licensing agreement, which lets its pizzas be sold by Roundy’s under the Bucky Badger logo, has earned the university nearly $20,000 since 2010.

Groups including the UW-Madison Student Labor Action Coalition are pressuring interim Chancellor David Ward to sever these ties. More than 10,000 names appear on an online petition to this effect.

The movement teems with youthful exuberance. The main website for the anti-Palermo’s campaign is called sliceofjustice.com. One of its rallying cries is “No justice. No piece.”

Committee asks UW to end contract

Last November, the UW-Madison Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee urged the university to move toward ending its contract. A report issued in February by the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights monitoring organization that lists the UW-Madison as an affiliate, concluded that Palermo’s has “engaged in serious violations of worker rights.”

Palermo’s, in a statement, called the report “a work of fiction” created to punish the company for complying with federal immigration laws.

Last fall, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed allegations that the 75 workers were fired in retaliation for protected organizing activities. An appeal of this ruling was rejected in late April.

Ward trumpeted this finding, saying that while the university continues to urge an end to the labor dispute, “we believe that cutting ties with Palermo’s at this time is not warranted based on the facts.”

But Richard Saks, the Milwaukee attorney who lodged the complaint, notes that not all charges were dismissed. The NLRB, he says, “has been prepared to issue a complaint and prosecute Palermos for various other serious labor law violations.”

Students not afraid to protest

On April 29, a dozen protesters occupied the Ward’s office for about three hours, until removed by police, while about 100 others rallied outside. They sang “Solidarity Forever” and chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Palermo’s contract’s got to go!”

One speaker, Scot McCullough of the UW-Oshkosh, reflected that college students like himself are in “a unique stage in our lives.” They won’t be denied a degree for speaking out; they aren’t beholden to employers who can use a paycheck to keep them in line.

“We’re free,” he told the crowd. “The question is, what do we do with that freedom?” The choices he outlined: Use it to benefit oneself, or try to help others.

That’s a good question for college students to ask, even if the answers they come up with make things difficult for the people who run universities.

CowDung May 10, 2013 at 02:31 PM
John Wilson: Where is the evidence to support your charge of 'unbridled greed, total disrespect for labor law, and uncontrollable ego enhancement for both money and power.'? Is there any evidence that the undocumented workers were paid less than what is legal? If they weren't paid less than 'normal' wages, then there was no advantage to be had by hiring illegal immigrants. It also indicates that 'unbridled greed, total disrespect for labor law, and uncontrollable ego enhancement for both money and power' didn't really play a part, and seem to be little more than slander against Palermos.
Di Atribe May 10, 2013 at 02:46 PM
One of my vendors ran into the same illegal alien problem a few years back. Often very convincing paperwork is provided, and employers are caught between the rock of Equal Employment regulations and the hard place of making sure they don't go too far checking the paperwork & irritating legal residents. Luckily they never had any fallout when they self-reported to ICE to come in and figure it all out. 27 illegal aliens were flushed out of their Mexican workforce of 79--but three weeks later 10 came back with "good paperwork" for their old jobs. The border security is still a joke--three weeks from Mexico to Milwaukee, including finding a new set of fraudulent papers.
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 02:51 PM
CowDung – IF you actually read my latest post, you will not discover me mentioning anything regarding the payment/wages of workers, only the greed/unlawful behavior and ego enhancement of some “job creators.” Furthermore, “Slander” is verbal; “Libel” is written. If I may be of any further assistance in clarifying the obvious for you, please post. Finally, I will repeat, again, “…– and anyone asking for more proof is being totally disingenuous or just monolithically stupid… “
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Mr Lundt – JS April 15, 2013 “The regional NLRB office did find that the company violated the labor rights of 11 workers.” http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/203092901.html Your post is simply not factually accurate, and you know that; nice try though. Finally, a company does not decide when a union vote occurs; that is up to the union and the employees…
CowDung May 10, 2013 at 03:04 PM
What is motivating your accusations of greed then? Wouldn't there have to be some sort of financial advantage to employing illegal aliens (presumably, illegally low wages) if greed was a factor in their employment? The internet is a rather gray area when it comes to slander/libel. It isn't paper, so it has been argued that it counts the same as the 'written word'. While it isn't the same as the written word, it also isn't the same as the spoken word either. You will find that both libel and slander are used when talking about stuff that is posted on the internet.
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Mr Lundt - “At a news conference Monday, Voces de la Frontera, which helped organize the workers, asked that the 11 workers found by the NLRB to have been unlawfully dismissed for union activity be reinstated with back pay. One of the 10 has been reinstated but not received back pay, said Christine Neumann-Ortiz. A spokesman for Palermo’s said that the company has agreed to reinstate workers with back pay, but that that can’t be done until the appeal of the other part of the NLRB ruling is completed in Washington. Union attorney Richard Saks disagreed, saying the company could voluntarily hire the workers back. The Palermo Workers Union appealed the main portion of the November NLRB ruling that found that the company did not unlawfully dismiss 75 workers during an immigration audit of the company. The regional NLRB office did find that the company violated the labor rights of 11 workers.” http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/203092901.html Personally, I think it is time that Gov. Walker, the TP/GOP, and ALEC got together with our Republican Legislature and passed a new law to the effect that the great "job creating state of Wisconsin" - 63k since Gov. Walker took office now, 44th in job creation - would not be bound by any decision of the NLRB. Our “job creators” need the flexibility to do what they want, when they want, free of any silly restrictions of mere man-made laws…
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 04:22 PM
CowDung – I do sincerely appreciate your tenacity; you rarely fail to provide me with at least a chuckle, mainly though, a really healthy and hearty belly laugh… While the Internet (population) may confuse, contort, misinterpret and misrepresent slander/libel laws and their application, I can assure you the courts do not. That is all that matters: THE LAW. There is nothing “grey” in the law about slander/libel or its application. [Perhaps accusing them of the Holocaust might be close; however, their labor did make automobiles, namely the mighty Volkswagen, so they were indeed “job creators.”] Parenthetically, I cannot conceive of anything spoken or written about the “job creators” that would ever rise to the level of either slander or libel… and I have worked in the private sector for over 30-years as contractor, permanent employee and now owner. For the 3rd time, “…– and anyone asking for more proof is being totally disingenuous or just monolithically stupid… “
Bewildered May 10, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Per John Wison: "The Palermo Workers Union appealed the main portion of the November NLRB ruling" Hey dummy, there is no Palermo Workers Union. Way to do your homework. Just goes along with your desire for Palermo to break the law by hiring illegals. Tone it down or do we need to remind Patchers of your true beliefs, as evident by your comments history?
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 04:57 PM
Di Atribe - While I remain compassionate and feel a deep sense of empathy with all of us “job creators” as we deal with the dilemma of EEOC regulations, privacy rights of potential employees, and forged documentation provided by some undocumented workers, I am also reminded that I have never had a problem with the verification of a potential immigrant employee. How strange? Of course, I use the resources available, E-Verify, ICE, Social Security verification, and private resources, as well. I am “responsible” in my endeavor to CYA and do not attempt to cut corners, put my employees and my company in legal or financial jeopardy, simply to make a few more dollars or have complete control over an employee. Succinctly, I do things the right way, as do the vast majority of “job creators.” It is only the “job creators” who want to game the system, cut corners, and push the envelope for that last penny and power who endlessly find themselves in trouble with immigration law. If there is any joke here – and it really isn’t funny – it is that the “job creators” at best, get a fine for hiring undocumented workers, and if you do not pay it, the government “forgives” it because you are a “job creator.”
c May 10, 2013 at 05:07 PM
@John Wilson, aka wannabe smart ass but lacks the smarts to be one: wow, 20k since 2010. What a lucrative deal for a large pizza company! Apparently these dimwit college kids (which are an embarassment to college graduates everywhere) are as naive as you are when it comes to economics.
c May 10, 2013 at 05:08 PM
And the town drunk Keith has reduced himself to the level of mornin mist - a no brain sheeple who basically reposts links all day. One too many beers huh?
c May 10, 2013 at 05:10 PM
More stupidity from a liberal. Post recession? One could argue we are still in a economic lull, heck all the unemployed flat out gave up looking for work. So in an extremely soft economic patch, workers should be happy to just have a job, right? Oh but never mind econ 101 - the company can magically create money out of thin air.
c May 10, 2013 at 05:12 PM
@John Wilson Here we go again - leftwing hate groups can sling ACCUSATIONS, not facts, all they want and dimwits like yourself rush to their cause. How braindead can you be?
c May 10, 2013 at 05:15 PM
John Wilson: Low information people, like John Wilson, who thinks any accusation, without any merit what so ever, is true so long as it is against conservatives, companies, or productive people in general.
c May 10, 2013 at 05:16 PM
So these dumbasses like Bren, John Wilson, et al, think its wonderful to have our country flooded by illegal aliens. Then when these illegals forge documents and get a job with a company, they then run to bash the company. Anyone else see just how breathtakingly ignorant their stances are???
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 05:18 PM
Bewildered – Welcome back, my most favorite low-forehead friend! You always do live down to your pseudonym… Per the JS: “The Palermo Workers Union appealed the main portion of the November NLRB ruling that found that the company did not unlawfully dismiss 75 workers during an immigration audit of the company.” A Union is representing the workers at Palermo’s, even though the workers have not “officially” had a “vote” on Union representation at the Palermo facility. They are also represented by attorneys, not angels… I know you struggle mightily with anything cognitive, and further advanced than kindergarten mathematics; however, if you are going to post on the Patch, perhaps you should have Mommy or Daddy explain the adult world to you…
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 08:35 PM
CowDung – Private employers have a multitude of government resources available to them to ascertain the legal status of any employee, as well as private resources. Furthermore, they have the legal obligation to do so. There is no excuse – especially for the Milwaukee Police Department 6-years ago – to wake up one day and discover that a current employee does not have legal standing to be working in the USA, other than total incompetence. The federal government - through the Web-based E-Verify - is available for all private employers; this has been in existence since June of 2008, and is run by Homeland Security, all an employer has to do is sign up. “The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires employers to verify the legal status and right to work of all new hires. Employers should not ask applicants to state their national origin, but should ask if they have the legal right to work in the United States, and explain that verification of that right must be submitted after the decision to hire has been made. To satisfy the verification requirements, employers must ask all new hires for documents establishing both identity and work authorization.” Like our great President Ray-Gun said, "Trust but verify." Of course, if an employer simply wants cheap, controllable, unskilled labor, they will not follow the law, and sometimes they put their entire enterprise at both legal and financial risk in their failure to do “Due diligence.”
CowDung May 10, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Perhaps it was an e-verify check done by Palermo's that found that they had many illegal immigrants in their employ. They then took action to rectify the situation.
Mr Lundt May 10, 2013 at 08:51 PM
John Wilson has decided that hurling insults and creating phony straw-man arguments is his only hope at getting the low informed to be outraged.
CowDung May 10, 2013 at 08:55 PM
"Of course, if an employer simply wants cheap, controllable, unskilled labor, they will not follow the law, ..." Again I ask, is there any evidence that the illegal workers were being paid substandard or illegally low wages?
The Anti-Alinsky May 10, 2013 at 08:57 PM
John Wilson thinks he is as funny as Jason Patzfahl. Actually, I guess he is.
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 09:07 PM
CowDung – For the 4th time, “…– and anyone asking for more proof is being totally disingenuous or just monolithically stupid… “
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 09:17 PM
CowDung – Private employers have a multitude of government resources available to them to ascertain the legal status of any employee, as well as private resources. Furthermore, they have the legal obligation to do so. There is no excuse – especially for the Milwaukee Police Department 6-years ago – to wake up one day and discover that a current employee does not have legal standing to be working in the USA, other than total incompetence. The federal government – through the Web-based E-Verify – is available for all private employers; this has been in existence since June of 2008, and is run by Homeland Security, all an employer has to do is sign up. “The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires employers to verify the legal status and right to work of all new hires. Employers should not ask applicants to state their national origin, but should ask if they have the legal right to work in the United States, and explain that verification of that right must be submitted after the decision to hire has been made. To satisfy the verification requirements, employers must ask all new hires for documents establishing both identity and work authorization.” Like our great President Ray-Gun said, "Trust but verify." (Contd.)
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 09:18 PM
CowDung - (Contd.) Of course, if an employer simply wants cheap, controllable, unskilled labor, they will not follow the law, and sometimes they put their entire enterprise at both legal and financial risk in their failure to do “Due diligence.”
CowDung May 10, 2013 at 09:18 PM
Every time you make the implication that Palermo's was hiring illegals in order to pay them less than they would pay a legal worker, I'm going to continue to re-ask the question.
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 09:24 PM
CowDung - Perhaps fire really isn't hot, and, perhaps water really isn't wet...
CowDung May 10, 2013 at 09:31 PM
If they did pay lower wages, then it would indicate that they acted purposefully in hiring illegal immigrants. If they paid the same wage rates to the illegal workers as they did to everyone else, it shows that they didn't. If the NLRB hadn't investigated the wages before clearing Palermo's in the firings, they haven't done their job.
John Wilson May 10, 2013 at 10:02 PM
Craig – You are indeed correct… UW-Madison has very high entrance and ongoing standards; it is an excellent school. I did 2-years of undergraduate work there and a year of pre-med before I went out east. I am putting this on my calendar, that on today, May 10, 2013, Craig & I agreed on something... this may not happen for another century and you will be gone by then.
John Wilson May 11, 2013 at 12:05 AM
Craig - You would certainly be most welcome, and that would be well beyond being really, really KOOL... you would have to arrange for a ride though, as the stuff I use is 16.7% THC, and there is no way I would allow you to be driving anything, as I'm almost positive you have "no tolerance" for anything that potent...
Steve ® May 11, 2013 at 12:43 AM
Liberals live in opposite emotional land. If they lived in a reality and reasonable fact biased world they would melt.

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