Micah Buckley-Farlee was born with a severe medical condition that results in the spontaneous partial collapse of his lungs. On a Saturday night last year, while working his shift at a Minneapolis Jimmy John’s, Buckley-Farlee began suffering severe chest pains.
“I went to my manager and said, ‘Hey, I need to go to the hospital. I think my lung is collapsing,'” Buckley-Farlee said.
His manager’s response: Find someone to work out the remainder of the shift, or you’re fired.
Fortunately for Buckley-Farlee, one of his co-workers was willing to work on short notice that night. But several current and former workers at 10 West-Metro franchises say the incident raises concerns about the health of Jimmy John’s workers – and the safety of the sandwiches they’re paid to make.
“Workers are disciplined for calling in sick,” said David Boehnke, who was fired from his job at a downtown Minneapolis Jimmy John’s after raising concerns about employees working while sick. “The new attendance policy mandates discipline for workers who call in sick or can’t find substitutes.”
Boehnke, who is active in the upstart Jimmy John’s Workers Union, joined 30 other workers and supporters in raising awareness of the franchise’s sick-days policy – or lack thereof – March 31 by playfully “quarantining” a Jimmy John’s store in Cedar-Riverside with a picket line.
The supporters included representatives of two statewide unions that represent workers in the health care field, the Minnesota Nurses Association and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.
“Because I work union and because I have a contract, I can call in sick. There are no consequences for me to do that,” said Barb Martin, a nurse at Fairview University Hospital. “I’m here today on behalf o the MNA to support the workers at Jimmy John’s who are trying to gain the right to call in sick when they are sick.
“I really don’t want you making me a sandwich when you have the flu or strep throat.”
But according to Boehnke, that’s exactly what he did for three days straight during a bout of strep throat last year.
“We’re making minimum wage, and that just means we can’t afford to not be at work and make the money we need to pay our bills, pay for our kids, pay for our livelihoods,” Boehnke said.
Kent Wilcox, a vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and an employee in a St. Paul hospital, called out Jimmy John’s for putting profits before product safety.
“When I heard Jimmy John’s corporate leadership was forcing people to work sick, I knew I had to be here,” Wilcox said. “Unfortunately, I was not surprised that another corporation is putting their dirty greed ahead of their customers’ and their employees’ health, safety and welfare.”
Workers at the 10 Jimmy John’s franchises owned by Mike and Rob Mulligan took part in an organizing election last year, but the results were tainted by employer interference, according to a ruling of the National Labor Relations Board, which nullified the election results.
While they re-organized support for another election campaign, Jimmy John’s Workers Union supporters focused on the issue of working sick – distributing fliers to patrons warning them of the franchise’s policy of punishing workers for calling in sick.
That activity got six workers fired last month, although the union has filed charges with the NLRB to get them reinstated.
For more information, go to jimmyjohnsworkers.org.