Jimmy John's labor dispute escalates: 6 former sandwich shop workers file labor complaint against their ex-boss

Reprinted from the Pioneer Press:

Six former workers who led a union organizing effort at a west metro Jimmy John's sandwich shop franchise have filed federal unfair labor practice charges against their ex-employer.

The complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board says the workers recently were fired for engaging in activities that are protected by law. The activities included putting up posters suggesting sick workers may be making sandwiches at the restaurants and for inciting supporters to flood store phone lines at lunchtime.

In addition to filing the charges, the six fired workers said they would escalate actions against the Jimmy John's 10-store franchise until demands for the right to call in sick, paid sick days and reinstatement are met.

In the fall, workers at the Jimmy John's restaurants rejected joining the IWW Jimmy John's Workers Union in an 87-85 vote. In January, the NLRB set that loss aside and cleared the way for a new election if the union chooses to pursue one.

Meanwhile, union supporters have focused on changing company policies, including the disciplining of Jimmy John's workers who call in sick without finding a replacement. The franchise owners said they follow local and state health regulations and don't allow workers with flu-like symptoms to work.

The workers said that after management refused to talk about the sick-day policy, members of the IWW Jimmy John's Workers Union distributed 3,000 copies of a poster advising the public of alleged health risks
at the sandwich chain. The posters show two identical sandwiches, one said to be made by a healthy worker and another made by a sick worker. "Can't tell the difference?" the poster asks. "We hope your immune system is ready because you're about to take the sandwich test."

Mike Mulligan, the franchise owner, said in a statement that the posters were "defamatory" and "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."

The posters urge patrons to call Mulligan's son Rob about the issue. The 10 stores in the Mulligan franchise are in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.

The workers were fired "to protect the jobs of the people who work for the company." The franchise employs 240 people, according to the statement.

David Boehnke, 25, who worked for two years at a Jimmy John's in downtown Minneapolis, said he believes he was fired for his union organizing activity. "We decided we needed to make it more of a public issue."

Marlin Osthus, director of the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Minneapolis, said the agency will investigate the claims. When union organizers attempt to inflict economic harm on an employer, some activity is protected under law and some is not, he said. That's what investigators will be concentrating on.

One question regarding the posters will be whether they made it clear that a labor dispute was going on, a requirement for materials that are distributed to the public.

Julie Forster can be reached at 651-228-5189.