Jimmy John’s Workers Launch Internet Campaign for Paid Sick Days

By Barb Kucera, Editor, Workday Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS –Three years ago, the Jimmy John’s fast food chain fired six Minneapolis sandwich workers for putting up over 3,000 posters publicizing a grisly truth: Company policy and low pay routinely forced them to come to work and make sandwiches while they’re sick.

Now, after a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling ordering the company to reinstate the unlawfully fired whistle-blowers, the workers have escalated their campaign for paid sick days, this time putting up their now-famous “Sandwich Test” posters coast to coast in a social media challenge.

“Jimmy John’s thought that they could silence us by firing six core members of our organizing effort,” said Erik Forman, an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the independent national union that is organizing the Jimmy John’s workers.

“They were wrong.  Starting on Labor Day, union supporters put up copies of the poster Jimmy John’s fired us for publicizing in cities all across the United States, and sharing photos of the posters on social media.  We have simple demands: Give workers paid sick days, and comply with the NLRB’s order to reinstate the six of us who spoke out with the truth.”

The bold action occurred a week after the NLRB’s late-August order to Jimmy John’s to reinstate six workers it unlawfully fired in 2011 for blowing the whistle on company policies that expose customers to sandwiches made by sick workers.

The NLRB decision slaps down the chain’s appeal of a 2012 trial that brought to light a sickening reality behind the counter at Jimmy John’s, with sworn testimony of workers forced to work with ailments ranging from pink eye to the common flu, and even a collapsed lung.

A union survey found an average of two workers work while sick every day at the Minneapolis franchise of the chain because minimum-wage pay means workers can’t afford to take a day off, and management writes up or fires workers if they take a day off when they are sick without finding a substitute.

The IWW Jimmy John’s Workers Union unveiled a renewed escalation, which began on Labor Day weekend, calling on the chain to comply with the NLRB ruling, and underscoring demands for paid sick days, a living wage, stable scheduling and guaranteed hours, and tip jars, and better policies around driver safety and compensation.

The campaign for better conditions at the 1,900-location sandwich empire began in September 2010, when workers at the Minneapolis-area Jimmy John’s franchise owned by Mike and Rob Mulligan staged a work stoppage and picket in protest of minimum wage pay, shifts as short as two or three hours, rampant sexual harassment, arbitrary firings, and being forced to prepare sandwiches while sick. In response, Jimmy John’s launched an anti-union campaign that led to more than 30 unfair labor practice – labor law-breaking — charges.  The Twin Cities’ Jimmy Johns Workers Union is trying to take its organizing drive nationwide.