Jimmy John's workers launch viral campaign for paid sick days

Jimmy John's workers are using this poster to promote their campaign for paid sick days.

Three years ago, Jimmy John’s fired six Minneapolis sandwich workers for putting up over 3,000 posters publicizing a grisly truth: workers at the chain are routinely forced by company policy and low pay to come to work and make sandwiches while sick.

Following a National Labor Relations Board ruling last week ordering the company to reinstate the unlawfully fired whistle-blowers, the workers have escalated their campaign for paid sick days, this time putting up the 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, the union of Jimmy John’s workers.

“They were wrong. Starting on Labor Day, union supporters will be putting 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 comes one week after the National Labor Relations Board ordered Jimmy John’s to reinstate six workers who were 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 sandwich 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 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, 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 charges.

Open to employees at the company nationwide, the Jimmy Johns Workers Union is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.

  • In a way, the phrase "viral campaign" seems appropriate. What isn't appropriate is making workers wait years for their complaint to be resolved, and the employer's penalty is essentially nothing. - by Eric Ferguson on Wed, 09/03/2014 - 3:41pm
  • Thank you for telling this story and thank goodness we have a functioning National Labor Relations Board. How can we find out which eateries don't offer their workers paid sick leave (so we can know which places to avoid)? - by Lee Samelson on Wed, 09/03/2014 - 8:20am
  • Sorry, this is kind of disgusting, but true. I've eaten at Jimmy John's a total of two times, at two different locations. Both times I got food poisoning. So I will never eat there again! Just to hear the name of the restaurant now makes me feel a little queasy. It seems to me that it makes business sense to provide paid sick leave for everybody, perhaps especially food workers. - by Kathy Ahlers on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 10:36pm
  • I don't think Jimmy John's should have fired people for being sick, but they should not have to provide PAID sick days. Paid time off is a benefit not a requirement especially if these employees are only part-time. Sick days are often abused and probably even more so in this type of industry, and it's unfair to leave the company short-staffed. It's stressful for both the employees working that day and the customers, but no one should be fired for being sick and working while sick especially in the food industry. Just giving a different perspective. Interesting story. Thanks for sharing! - by Kabor Xiong on Wed, 09/03/2014 - 11:40am
  • I won't eat at Jimmy John's anyway, I don't like the guy and I don't like the way he treats the employees that make him his money. Sorry Jimmy. Don't be a jerk. - by Nicola Murray on Wed, 09/03/2014 - 8:36am
  • there is a lot of places that don't offer sick days...I never had a job that offered sick days - by Joseph Houglum on Wed, 09/03/2014 - 7:55pm
  • Firing for taking unpaid sick days ? Sanitation ? - by Joe Bell on Wed, 09/03/2014 - 10:22am

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Barb Kucera

I edit the Workday Minnesota news site, www.workdayminnesota.org