Jimmy John's Workers Hit the Bricks to Bring Bosses into Compliance with Court Order : Over a Year After Mass Firing, Search for Justice takes Workers from Courtroom to the Streets
Submitted on Tue, 04/24/2012 - 8:25pm
MINNEAPOLIS- Picket lines will popped up around Jimmy John's at noon today as sandwich workers and supporters from Occupy Minneapolis and local labor unions sought to persuade franchise owners Mike and Rob Mulligan to comply with a judge's order to reinstate six workers illegally fired for blowing the whistle on company policies which expose customers to sandwiches made by sick workers. Although an NLRB judge ruled on Friday that the workers must be offered reinstatement within 14 days, federal labor law allows employers to illegally fire workers and then drag out appeals for years with minimal penalties.
"The dysfunction of US labor law means that crime pays for bosses in America. We are calling on Mike and Rob Mulligan to do the right thing and abide by the court order, rather than delay justice by pouring more money into a losing legal battle," said Max Specktor, one of the fired workers.
According to the judge's ruling, Jimmy John's workers can be disciplined if they call in sick without finding a substitute. A union survey revealed that this policy, in conjunction with minimum-wage workers' inability to afford to take a day off, result in an average of two workers making sandwiches while sick every day at the Minneapolis franchise of the chain. Minnesota Department of Health reports document three outbreaks of foodborne illness in the past five years at the franchise, due in part to sick workers.
Workers at Jimmy John's then began campaigning for the right to call in sick and paid sick days in January 2011. Despite the clear risk to public health of workers making sandwiches while ill, franchise owners Mike and Rob Mulligan stonewalled employee requests for sick day policy reform for more than two months, prompting union supporters to take their message to the public by posting 3000 copies of a poster explaining that workers are forced to make sandwiches while sick. Mike and Rob Mulligan lashed out in retaliation, firing six workers and disciplining others. On the witness stand, Mike Mulligan admitted under oath that he had fired the six workers because he perceived them as the "leaders and developers" of a unionization effort. Mulligan's credibility was further eroded when he testified to intentionally lying about the franchise's food safety record to the press.
The story of the unionization effort at Jimmy John's reads like a cautionary tale about the inefficacy of of labor law in the United States. A majority of Jimmy John's workers demanded union recognition in September 2010, primarily seeking a pay increase above minimum wage. In response, the company spent over $85,000 on a vicious anti-union campaign with the help of outside union-busting consultants. In spite of this, the workers came within a hairs-breadth of victory in an 85-87 vote that the NLRB later threw out due to over 30 employer violations of federal labor law in the election period.
Because Jimmy John's has exploited the weakness of US labor law to stomp on employee's right to organize, workers have begun to look to 'direct action' tactics such as picketing, boycotts, strikes, and occupations, finding support and inspiration in the 'Occupy' movements springing up across the country.
"Mike and Rob Mulligan and their cronies in the 1% will not respect our right to organize until the 99% give them no other choice. If we want a better life, it's up to us to fight for and win it," said Max Specktor.
The Jimmy Johns Workers Union, open to employees at the company nationwide, is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.