Why the Protestors at UW Madison are Right

April 30, 2013 | Blog

This post is from Professor Chad Goldberg.

In his April 29 statement on Palermo’s Pizza, Interim Chancellor David Ward wrote: “On November 29, 2012, NLRB Regional Director Irving Gottschalk issued a decision that found the majority of the alleged labor law violations against Palermo’s lacked merit. The NLRB findings were appealed by representatives of the workers. Earlier today [April 29, 2013] the appeal was denied based on insufficient evidence. Throughout this process, we stated that we would weigh findings by the NLRB as we considered additional action…. We are encouraging Palermo’s, the workers and the NLRB to reach an agreement on rehiring the remaining workers who are not covered by today’s appeal decision. While we acknowledge the viewpoints represented by UW-Madison students and the Workers’Rights Consortium, we believe that cutting ties with Palermo’s at this time is not warranted based on the facts.” [http://www.news.wisc.edu/21728]

Others on campus have also questioned yesterday’s student occupation of the chancellor’s office in light of the recent NLRB ruling. 

One would hope that a liberal arts education would militate against this kind of intellectual and moral complacency. Why does the WRC merely express a viewpoint, while the NLRB determines facts? Why should the campus community regard the NLRB as the supreme arbiter or the only valid source of judgment or evidence in this dispute? Why do members of the campus community who in other instances pride themselves on their critical thinking skills hesitate to question the NLRB? Better knowledge of U.S. labor history would serve all of us well. It would remind us that the NLRB is in fact a political body that reflects the presidential appointments made to it–or blocked by the Congress.  Indeed, in recent years it has become politicized to an unprecedented extent by Republican refusal to approve President Obama’s appointments. [http://jeffweintraub.blogspot.com/2010/02/republican-obstructionism-watch-why.html

As a result of this politicization, the board is not merely a legal and regulatory framework for struggles between labor and management; it is itself an object and terrain of struggle.

Furthermore, as my colleague Sara Goldrick-Rab has rightly pointed out, the NLRB concerns itself with federal labor laws; it does not define the code of conduct at UW-Madison. The Worker Rights Consortium, an independent worker rights monitoring organization with which the university is affiliated, and the UW-Madison Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee, the campus shared governance body designated to make recommendations on these issues, have both investigated Palermo’s Pizza and found it guilty of violating UW’s code of conduct. There is no contradiction here with the NLRB ruling: even if Palermo’s is not in violation of federal labor laws, it can still be in violation of the university’s code of conduct.

Interim Chancellor Ward’s dismissal of the recommendations of the Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee is another troubling sign of the erosion of shared governance on our campus. Worse yet, it shows a troubling moral complacency which the students who occupied his office rightly reject. They understand that the only thing necessary for the triumph of injustice is for good people to do nothing. Those students are an inspiration to all of us on campus who believe that the university’s code of conduct should be taken seriously.

Chad Alan Goldberg
Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vice President, United Faculty & Academic Staff, AFT Local 223

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