Six local Jimmy John’s workers fired more than a year ago are entitled to get their jobs back, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled Monday.
The workers were fired in part for plastering parts of the Twin Cities with flyers claiming the restaurant’s customers were at risk of illness because of Jimmy John’s sick day policy, which required workers to find their own replacement if they were sick.
“It’s a big victory. It’s not unexpected for us, we’ve known for a long time that our posters and our right to speak out about health and safety issues are legally protected,” said Erik Forman, one of the workers who lost his job. “But we’re glad to see that we’re one step closer to getting back to work and exercise our right to organize.”
In a March 2011 letter to one of the franchise owners, Rob Mulligan, Jimmy John’s workers called the sick day policy a risk to public safety and an economic incentive to work while ill, as it required workers to find their own replacement and go unpaid if they didn’t work.
The workers must be reinstated within 14 days and are eligible for backpay, according to the judge’s ruling. Foreman estimated that would be an average of $10,000 for each of the six workers.
At the case’s hearing in February, Rob Mulligan, who owns 10 Jimmy John’s franchises along with Mike Mulligan, testified that the hiring document including the sick policy hadn’t been in use since 2010. But the judge’s ruling Monday found the new policy, instated in March of 2011, wasn’t substantively different from the old one.
MikLin Enterprises, the Mulligans’ company, said they respectfully disagree with the NLRB’s findings in a statement Monday. It disputed that workers have been fired because of calling in sick.
They said the employees were fired for disparaging Jimmy John’s — not because of union organizing activities.
MikLin called its policy —which it said requires workers who are ill to call in sick and not work — fair and typical of the fast food industry.
The Industrial Workers of the World union began organizing in the Mulligans’ Jimmy John’s franchises as early as 2007, according to the judge’s ruling.
In October 2010, a formal unionization vote among Jimmy John’s employees failed by two votes, with 87 against representation and 85 in favor.
The union filed objections with the NLRB, believing management swayed the vote. In January 2011, Jimmy John’s and the union reached a settlement.
Beginning in early 2011, union members posted flyers in opposition to the sick day policy in and around Jimmy John’s stores.
One flyer displayed two identical sandwiches, one claiming to be made by a healthy worker and one by a sick worker, asking customers whether they could tell the difference. The six workers were fired in March.
In light of the ruling, “the six [workers who were fired] are all completely committed to going back,” Forman said, citing a desire to form a union and work for fast food workers’ rights at other chains.
As for going back to Jimmy John’s, “It would be illegal for their employer to retaliate against them based on the lawsuit brought on so far and so I would hope that they would be treated just like any other employee,” said IWW union’s attorney, Timothy Louris.
“Right off-hand, it’s tough to assess what sort of impact this is going to have [on other workers],” Louris said. “It might help bolster the union drive at Jimmy John’s but in terms of a larger effect that’s tough to gauge.”