Seven core members of the Jimmy John’s Workers Union were fired Tuesday and Wednesday from five Twin Cities locations for distributing hundreds of posters claiming that eating at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches puts customers at risk of food-borne illness.
The posters were in response to the union’s unmet demands for paid sick days, which “force” employees to come in sick, putting customers at risk, they said.
Union supporter David Boehnke, who was fired Tuesday, said the firings were outrageous.
“We were fired for saying we want better working conditions for ourselves,” said Boehnke, who works at a downtown location. “We were standing up for ourselves.”
Boehnke said their activities were legally protected because the employees were organizing for higher wages. However franchise owner Mike Mulligan of MikLin Enterprises disagrees.
According to a statement from MikLin, the posters disparaged the company’s reputation and showed “extreme disloyalty and malicious intent to damage” the company.
“If successful in driving customers from Jimmy John’s stores, their actions would endanger the jobs of the very employees they seek to represent,” the statement said. “Rather than truly serving the interests of our employees, their self-centered agenda in support of their radical organization is obvious.”
The poster shows identical sandwiches, one labeled as being made by a healthy worker and one by a sick worker. The poster asks if customers can spot a difference between the two. “We hope your immune system is ready because you’re about to take the sandwich test,” it reads.
The MikLin statement also said the posters’ claim that workers are not allowed to have sick days at all is false.
However, Boehnke countered that without paid sick days, the workers are essentially forced to come in to work because they can’t afford not to.
The workers currently have a four-point system, in which workers are deducted one point for missing work without finding a replacement and half a point for coming to work 10 minutes late.
At four points, the worker is fired.
Brittany Koppy, a union supporter and a senior at the University of Minnesota, said the point system was a new attempt by management to aid the stringent policy.
Previously if workers didn’t find a replacement when they were sick, they risked being fired on the spot, said Koppy, who works at the Dinkytown Jimmy John’s.
Koppy had also passed out fliers but wasn’t fired. Instead she was given a final written notice saying she would be fired if she engaged in similar activities again.
Koppy said she believes she wasn’t fired because she isn’t a core union organizer.
“I could get fired for anything at anytime,” Koppy said. “But I’m not worried. I know the union is going to take care of me if I do get fired.”
Boehnke said the workers are seeking legal remedy by filing unfair labor practices against the company to win back their jobs and receive back pay.
“This is about trying to destroy the union,” Boehnke said. “It’s something they shouldn’t be allowed to do.”
In January the National Labor Relations Board nullified the results of the Oct. 22 union election where workers voted against allowing the union to represent them by two votes.
In the settlement MikLin did not admit to violating the National Labor Relations Act but agreed not to engage in the kind of activities that led employees to file unfair labor practices regarding the election.
The 60-day period the union needed to wait before organizing another election ended earlier this month.
Boehnke said the possibility of an election “is still on the table.”