NLRB Orders Reinstatement of Six Whistleblowers Fired in Paid Sick Day Fight at Jimmy John’s

August 25th, 2014

Workers Pledge Nationwide Escalation for Justice at Jimmy John’s on Labor Day

Press Contact: Isaac Dalto (443-845-3638)

WASHINGTON– The National Labor Relations Board has ordered Jimmy John’s to reinstate six workers who were unlawfully fired in 2011 for blowing the whistle on company policies that could expose customers to sandwiches made by sick workers. The NLRB decision slaps down the sandwich chain’s appeal of a 2012 trial that brought to light a grisly reality behind the counter at Jimmy John’s, with sworn testimony of workers forced to work with ailments ranging from pinkeye to the common flu, and even a collapsed lung. A union survey found that 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 has announced a renewed escalation over Labor Day weekend to call on the company to comply with the NLRB ruling, and underscore demands for paid sick days, pay above minimum wage, stable scheduling, tip jars, and better policies around driver safety and compensation.

“The NLRB has said what the public already knew: workers have the right to speak out about their working conditions, particularly when those working conditions mean that customers might get food served by a sick worker. We are pleased with the ruling, but justice delayed is justice denied. We were fired more than three years ago, illegally. We still aren’t back on the job. US labor law is broken, this system doesn’t work for workers. Workers can’t wait for better pay, sick days, and guaranteed hours. So we are putting direct pressure on the company to win our demands for a better life.”

The campaign for better conditions at the 1,900-location sandwich empire began in 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 a campaign of disinformation and intimidation reminiscent of McCarthy-era paranoia, casting their own employees as a “third party” that sought to sow anarchy in the workplace. The employer’s anti-union campaign crossed over into illegality, leading to over 30 Unfair Labor Practice charges and voiding the results of an 85-87 vote against union representation at the chain in October 2010. Jimmy John’s agreed to a re-run election under the terms of a settlement brokered by the NLRB, but rapidly reneged on its pledge to abide by the law with the mass firing of six workers in retaliation for their campaign for paid sick days.

The story of the fight for paid sick days at Jimmy John’s reads like a cautionary tale on the dysfunction of the US labor law system. The six fired workers filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against Jimmy John’s immediately after the mass firing in March 2011. In November 2011, the NLRB filed a complaint against the Minneapolis-area Jimmy John’s franchise asserting that the workers were fired illegally, leading to a trial in February 2012 before an Administrative Law Judge. The Judge ruled in favor of the workers and ordered their reinstatement in April 2012. Mike and Rob Mulligan, co-owners of the Minneapolis-area Jimmy John’s franchise, refused to comply with the judge’s ruling and sought to appeal to the NLRB. Hobbled by congressional infighting for most of 2012 and 2013, the NLRB has taken more than two years to deliver a decision on the appeal. The company now has 30 days to comply or appeal the NLRB’s decision to federal court.