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.

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Barb_Kucera's picture
Barb Kucera

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