ISSAQUAH, Wash. - A pizza maker in Milwaukee is in the midst of a labor dispute, and Costco is caught in the middle.
Striking pizza workers want Costco to pull their company's pizza off the shelves, but tonight the Issaquah-based company is saying, "not so fast".
"No justice, no pizza," chanted several dozen union representatives as they demonstrated in front of Costco's Issaquah headquarters, asking the company to remove one of its frozen pizzas from their stores.
The pizza is Costco's Kirkland frozen brand, but it's made by Palermo Pizza in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Nearly 90 Palermo workers were terminated there last summer. The company said the terminations followed a federal immigration investigation identifying them as illegal immigrants.
Raul Delatorre was one of them. He spoke through a translator.
"They simply let us go. They fired us," he said.
The workers said they were fired only because they wanted to form a union at Palermo, which has never been unionized.
"They round up a bunch of dissidents, ringleaders and they fire them. That's what happened here," said David Freiboth, a labor organizer.
The workers and union representatives are targeting Costco because of its market dominance.
Costco demonstrated its buying power three years ago when it took Coca-Cola off its shelves, saying the product was too expensive. The dispute lasted less than a month when Coke agreed to lower its price.
Shoppers said Costco may hold all the cards in the dispute.
"That's probably their biggest customer, Costco, and it's probably going to destroy the company," one shopper said.
Palermo officials agree that losing the Costco account would be devastating, saying it would bring "significant impact to our employees."
Costco officials agreed to meet with the workers and unions Friday afternoon.
They said the pizzas will stay in the freezers for now, pending an investigation into the dispute by the National Labor Relations Board.