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Jimmy John’s franchise fires union workers after sick-day campaign

March 30, 2011

The owners of 10 Minnesota Jimmy John’s sandwich shops — where a rare unionization vote was narrowly rejected last year – have fired six union organizers.

sickdayposter[1]The terminated workers are members of the Industrial Workers of the World, a formerly high-profile union better known as the Wobblies, and said they were fired after they put up 3,000 posters (shown here) around Minneapolis as part of a campaign to win paid sick days.

Michael Mulligan, president of MikLin Enterprises Inc, which operates the affected Jimmy John’s restaurants, told Reuters that the terminated union workers “crossed well over the line of protected activity” with their latest appeal.

“The posters dishonestly state that Jimmy John’s workers are forced to work while sick and suggest that the health of customers is at risk when eating at our restaurants,” said Mulligan, who characterized the IWW as anti-capitalist, anarchist and socialist.

“These posters are false and misleading at best, and in the view of our company, they are defamatory, disparaging and dishonest,” added Mulligan, who said that his business has operated for a decade and served 6 million sandwiches without getting diners sick.

Most fast-food restaurant workers receive low wages and get little in the way of benefits such as health insurance. Paid sick days are a rarity in the industry, which is known for squeezing out costs in order to offer low-priced fare. One exception is San Francisco, which in 2007 became the first U.S. city to require employers to give workers paid sick leave.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a restaurant workers organization, in October released a study showing that  nearly 88 percent of workers reported not receiving paid sick days and that more than 63 percent of all restaurant workers admitted to cooking and serving food while sick.

Mulligan said Jimmy John’s employees are not allowed to work if they are having flu-like symptoms. Those employees are expected to find someone to cover their shift if they are sick and may be subject to disciplinary action if they do not.

“Since they pay us around minimum wage, most of us can’t afford to take a day off to get well,” said David Boehnke, one of the fired  sandwich-makers at the chain, whose mottos include “Subs so fast you’ll freak.”

“This is a public health issue. Jimmy John’s needs to do the right thing,” Boehnke said.

Erik Forman, another terminated worker, called the firings ”an attempt to destroy the union.”

“Speaking out against the policy of forcing workers to work while sick is not only our right, it is our duty,“ said Forman. ”We will speak out until they realize that no one wants to eat a sandwich filled with cold and flu germs.”

Where do you fall? Does the fast-food industry’s sick-day policy make you freak? Did the union members cross the line?

Comments

There’s nothing on the poster that’s factually incorrect, so I fail to see how it could be considered defamation. On top of that, one would think that sick days for people preparing and serving food is a no-brainer. It’s something that absolutely should be provided. The fact that the industry standard is NOT to provide paid sick days is a travesty.

Posted by SeamusPM | Report as abusive
 

It’s common sense to not allow sick people to handle food. Those who say that when people are sick they are no longer contagious are really trying hard to justify the greed and callous disregard of Jimmy Johns and other businesses with the same practices. I work in a nursing home which has a similar policy, although they don’t expect you to replace yourself. It doesn’t make good business sense to kill off the customer! I am proud of Jimmy Johns IWW members for attempting to protect customers, and for demonstrating to other “unions” out there how to expose the greed of the managers. I would personally love to get rid of a lot of the chain fast food businesses and get back to small businesses, which have a pride in putting out a good product and getting a fair price for it. I’d certainly be willing to spend a bit more to know that a sandwich I am eating was made by a healthy person. Jimmy Johns is strategically in a bad place when they complain about workers asking for basic rights, which also affect the health of the general public. Rant on, Jimmy Johns. All the publicity is hurting you.

Posted by esmarelda | Report as abusive
 

Yes, the fast-food industry’s sick-day policy makes me ‘freak.’ Regarding the question of whether union members ‘crossed the line,’ I suppose it depends on what line we’re talking about.

The Mulligans clearly feel that union members crossed lines, but it’s unclear what right to the enforcement of whatever line they’re concerned about they actually have. The poster seems factual, and is clearly (at least locally, here in the Twin Cities) part of an ongoing union campaign, so the legal lines remain uncrossed by union members.

I think the truly relevant lines have been crossed, regularly, for decades by the Fast-food industry. Creating a situation where workers either work sick or risk their jobs, refusing to offer sick days which would prevent this (thereby protecting both workers and customers) in the interest of short-term profit, is a very important line, and I’m proud of these workers for standing up to force the bosses back over that line.

Posted by erikwdavis | Report as abusive
 

There is nothing inaccurate or misleading on this poster. The simple fact is that these employees are forced by the poverty-level wages paid by Jimmy John’s, to work when sick. Even more troubling is that the onus for finding a replacement is placed upon the workers themselves. If they cannot find a replacement, the choice is to either work or suffer a disciplinary action. Jimmy John’s can’t have it both ways. If they want to produce sandwiches which are free from contagious germs, the answer is simple enough: provide for sick pay and remove the requirement that sick employees find their own replacements.

Posted by rogead | Report as abusive
 

This highlights the advanced need for universal coverage health care in this country. How is a minimum wage worker supposed to be able to afford medical attention while at the same time losing pay in order to go to the doctor.
And another thing, norovirus can be spread by people not showing any symptoms, as a person can be infected as long as two weeks after symptoms are no longer evident. The virus can be carried on clothing, spread to surfaces, etc. This isn’t just about the flu or spreading colds. It’s about time working people in this country started demanding some respect and start resisting being treated like an endless disposable commodity.

Posted by BlacqueJacque | Report as abusive
 

This franchise is standing at a critical fork in the road. Making the wrong decision will doom them.

Their first option is to sue those workers (which will cost a fortune & create even more bad PR) and be perceived as irresponsible villains by their customer base.

Their second option is to give in and don’t make it a secret. Promote it, advertise it. Show some public, transparent, humility, and become heroes to their larger segments (the middle & working class). (I’m assuming the top 25% don’t dine there very often). ;-)

Maybe the restaurant should do some research to find out if they actually could charge a little more to enable their workers to have slightly better lives.

I think they’d be surprised to find that many people are not going to balk at a 50 cent increase or so, on certain items if they knew it went to the employees (not to profits).

Then they should take the remainder of what is required to bump up wages and provide maybe — 3 sick days — from the company’s revenue. You could not buy the kind of positive publicity that would generate. Because the people will be watching. I know I’m going to watch to see what they do.

Being fair to your employees would go a long way in the present sickening business ethics environment of this country, where workers are constantly being degraded.

Posted by anunomus | Report as abusive
 

Well this is a great information guys. Thanks for sharing and keep on updating good work.

Posted by ausfranchises | Report as abusive
 

The simple fact is that these employees are forced by the poverty-level wages paid by Jimmy John’s, to work when sick. Even more troubling is that the onus for finding a replacement is placed upon the workers themselves. If they cannot find a replacement, the choice is to either work or suffer a disciplinary action.

Posted by Samueli | Report as abusive
 

I think the truly relevant lines have been crossed, regularly, for decades by the Fast-food industry. Creating a situation where workers either work sick or risk their jobs, refusing to offer sick days which would prevent this (thereby protecting both workers and customers) in the interest of short-term profit, is a very important line, and I’m proud of these workers for standing up to force the bosses back over that line.

Posted by Frank99 | Report as abusive
 

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