Six local Jimmy John’s workers fired more than a year ago should get their jobs back, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled last week.
The workers were fired after plastering parts of the Twin Cities with fliers claiming the restaurant’s customers were at risk of illness because of a sick-day policy requiring workers to find their own replacement if they were sick.
On Friday the judge ruled the workers must be reinstated within 14 days and are eligible for back pay — about $10,000 each, according to an estimate by Erik Forman, who lost his job at the West End Jimmy John’s store in St. Louis Park, Minn.
The stores’ owners have not yet decided whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.
“It’s a big victory. It’s not unexpected for us — we’ve known for a long time that our posters and our right to speak out about health and safety issues are legally protected,” Forman said. “But we’re glad to see that we’re one step closer to getting back to work and exercise our right to organize.”
In a March 2011 letter to franchise co-owner Rob Mulligan, Jimmy John’s workers called the sick-day policy a risk to the public’s safety, as it required workers to find their own replacement or go unpaid if they didn’t work, creating an incentive to work while ill.
At the case’s hearing in February, Rob Mulligan, who co-owns 10 Jimmy John’s franchises in the Twin Cities area with father Mike Mulligan, testified that the hiring document including the sick policy hadn’t been used since 2010. But the judge’s ruling Monday found the new policy, instated in March 2011, wasn’t substantively different from the old one.
MikLin Enterprises, Inc., the Mulligans’ company, said in a company statement that it respectfully disagrees with the NLRB’s findings. It disputed that any workers have been fired because of calling in sick.
The company said the six employees were fired for disparaging Jimmy John’s — not because of union organizing.
MikLin called its policy — which it claims requires ill workers to call in sick and not work — fair and typical of the fast food industry.
But Forman said that at minimum wage or slightly above, workers can’t afford to take a day off.
Organizing at Jimmy John’s
The Industrial Workers of the World union began organizing in the Mulligans’ Jimmy John’s franchises as early as 2007, according to the judge’s ruling.
In October 2010, a formal unionization vote among Jimmy John’s employees failed by two votes, with 87 votes against and 85 in favor.
The union filed objections with the NLRB, believing management swayed the vote. In January 2011, the NLRB nullified the vote.
Beginning in early 2011, union members posted fliers in opposition to the sick day policy in and around Jimmy John’s stores.
One flier displayed two identical sandwiches, one claiming to be made by a healthy worker and one by a sick worker, asking customers whether they could tell the difference. Six workers involved with the posters were fired in March of that year.
In light of the ruling, “the six [workers who were fired] are all completely committed to going back,” Forman said, citing a desire to form a union and work for fast food workers’ rights at other chains.
Forman said unionization among fast food workers isn’t widespread, but said Starbucks — where he currently works — has workers in the IWW Starbucks Workers Union.
As for going back to Jimmy John’s, “It would be illegal for their employer to retaliate against them based on the lawsuit brought on so far,” said IWW labor attorney Tim Louris. “And so I would hope that they would be treated just like any other employee.”
“Right off-hand, it’s tough to assess what sort of impact this is going to have [on other workers],” he said. “It might help bolster the union drive at Jimmy John’s but in terms of a larger effect, that’s tough to gauge.”