Wildcat Strike at Pizza Time
By Melissa Roberts, X329953
All nine employees of the Pizza Time franchise in downtown Olympia went on strike February 12th, to protest the restaurant's hostile working environment under new ownership. The situation began on February 8th, when workers were surpised with the sudden introduction of a new owner. With the new owner came a litany of arbitrary, discriminatory and unprofessional policies which included firings for unjust cause, racial slurs, health violations and procedures which ensured poor product quality. The new atmosphere has left an indelible mark on the workers--a group responsible for establishing a remarkably cooperative working environment in today's under-paid service sector.
Their response to the changes was unanimous--present a list of reasonable demands to the owner, and strike if they were not met.
When new owner, Shane Bloking, arrived at the franchise, he changed the locks, denied legal breaks, fired two workers, and hired his brother. The workers he fired, Abara and John, both had years of experience, and one was a long-time member of the Pizza Time workforce.
Shane's brother, Jeff, had no experience, and his erratic and hostile verbal style permeated the flavor of the working environment. In response to workers' questions about the firings, the owner's racial slurs suggest discrimination might be the true reason he "didn't like" one of the workers.
As an "at will" state, Washington workers can be fired for many reasons (or no reason at all), but discrimination is still an exception.
The firings are part of an overall climate of intimidation brought by the new owner. Pizza maker, Burke Kenny, was called in to work early one day, and was denied his 10-minute break after four hours work. The workers' attempts to explain procedures to the owner's brother, Jeff, are routinely ignored- -and sanitation, safety, and product quality visibly suffer. Customers are not the only ones unhappy with sub-standard and burnt product, as the workers' pride in their work is one of their reasons for taking to the streets.
Even Pizza Time Manager, Alex Wentz, is an active striker who supports the demands. The strike began the day Jeff opened the store in place of the regularly scheduled worker who had been fired. When drivers arrived to work at 11am, they found the door locked. Jeff arrived five hours late.
The picket line includes pizza makers, delivery drivers and community supporters. The Pizza Time workers have no history of protest or direct action, and are new to workplace organizing. But fighting for their rights comes naturally to this dedicated bunch.
The picket line has had a constant and visible presence and enjoyed wide community support daily, from noon to 10 PM, since the strike began on Saturday night. Located on a busy downtown street, drivers honk their support and foot passengers eagerly stop for leaflets about the strike.
The new owner's response to the strike is as erratic as his business practices. The first day of the strike, Bloking closed the store. On the second day, the brothers tried to operate the franchise by themselves. The strike's wide community support suggests they could handle the workload only because business had significantly dropped.
But by the day's end, Jeff Bloking told strikers that his brother had decided to stop making payments and exit the buyout contract with former Pizza Time owner and landlord, Richard Kelley. Workers were reluctant to believe their good fortune without written confirmation, so they remained on the line. On the third day, striking workers were told they were fired. The situation will be clarified when former owner, Richard Kelley, returns to Olympia on February 17th.
In the meantime, striking workers are holding the line. They have even successfully persuaded workers hired to replace them (a.k.a. scabs) from crossing the picket line. Five of the Pizza Time Workers have joined the IWW, and all have inadvertently become vocal spokespersons for workers' rights because of the situation. In a post-strike meeting, workers decided to file for an NLRB election for union certification.
They agreed to represent themselves and decided to form their own labor organization--Olympia Workers' Union--for filing purposes. The Olympia GMB of the IWW is actively supporting the workers-- walking the picket line and helping to research legal questions.