IWW Jimmy John's Workers Escalate New Campaign for Fair Pay, Working Conditions
"I wanted to join the Jimmy Union because I made better wages when I was 16," said one worker at the picket line outside the Block E Jimmy John's Thursday evening. "I worked at a turkey farm in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota. And I made better wages then."
Wearing shirts that read "Wages So Low You'll Freak"--a play on the profitable fast food chain's slogan--a couple dozen members of the newly formed Jimmy John's Workers Union organized through the Twin Cities Industrial Workers of the World walked the line with supporters in downtown Minneapolis, hours after simultaneously coming out at nine Minneapolis area stores owned by Mike and Rob Mulligan of Miklin Enterprises.
Before the picket began, members of the new union went in the store to seek a meeting with management. A worker knocked on the boss' door: "Hello, Jimmy John's Workers Union." But there was no answer, and outside a fold-up "neogtiating table" sat empty until the picketers went home for the night.
Read more below with photos | Previously: First in Nation, Jimmy John's Sandwich Workers Join Union Related: Picket Brings Business to a Standstill | JJ's Labor Dispute Bursts Onto National Stage with Coast-to-Coast Actions Planned
At a press conference Friday morning, union members announced they are escalating the campaign. A national day of action will see leafleting in 32 of the 39 states in which the company operates stores. Locally, leafleting will continue with the request to sign a pledge to boycott if the bosses persist in refusing to meet. A bike ride action is planned for Saturday and a rally for Labor Day.
After this summer, the Mulligans of suburban Minnetrista--father Mike, a former SuperValu vice president, and son Rob--are probably used to protest. Their stores earlier came under fire as a target of the Boycott Arizona--Minnesota (BAM!) immigrant rights campaign. The company, though not the Miklin franchisees, directly, has consistently funded the electoral campaigns of John McCain and Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Chairman "Jimmy" John Liautaud himself runs an LLC that illegally ran attack ads to boost Arpaio's campaign, but went unpunished. He's also given thousands to a far-right anti-immigrant group.
The campaign against the Minneapolis franchise became a victory in the national Boycott Arizona struggle when Mulligan signed on to a statement against SB1070 and in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
Despite signing the statement, a large percentage of local Jimmy John's profit still can be funneled to the causes of its owner. That's because corporate takes 10-11% of a store's sales, which includes a slew of branded merchandise and ingredients--even the bread itself. And all Twin Cities stores have sales over $1 million annually.
Workers who've met Jimmy John, who along with other corporate management keeps a very strict and close eye on franchises, describe him as having a bigoted, foul-mouthed sense of humor. If that's true, one can only imagine how he wouldn't reacted to the scene in Minneapolis Thursday night, where walk-in business was practically shut down by the picket on a night of simulatenous Vikings and Twins contests.
With business usually booming, especially at the Block E location less than 2 blocks from the new Target Field, workers' low wages are a particular sore point for the new union.
"I've worked here for a year and I've never heard of anybody getting a raise," said the worker with the higher-paying teenage turkey farm job.
At the blustery press conference Friday morning, a TV reporter asked what the workers would consider fair pay.
"Above minimum wage would be a start."
Other basic yet major demands include sick days, time off and an end to irregular one, two or three hour shifts. The chain's use of bicycle messengers to deliver sandwiches, even during the Minnesota winter, leads to another demand: hazard pay.
"I've had to bike with broken bones in my chest--I had two broken ribs and a broken sternum that I was delivering on, and didn't get to miss any work for it. I biked with a broken collarbone, delivering sandwiches with one arm, in the winter on ice--and didn't get any hazard pay," explained one bike delivery worker. "But I had to go to work because I don't make enough money to take a month off work--otherwise I can't pay my rent. So that's why I want to organize."
Ask a dozen different Jimmy John's picketers why they wanted to organize, and you'll probably get a dozen different reasons, if not a dozen different stories of management misconduct. They all seem to come back to the same theme of basic respect, dignity and fairness on the job.
"I'm here for every single time I've been disrespected or put down by my boss, or seen my coworkers disrespected and put down and haven't been able to say anything. This is the time we can finally say enough is enough," said one Wobbly.
Another pointed out how Jimmy John's is indicative of the fast food industry as a whole: "I really want to see a union happen for Jimmy John's because there's nothing like it in the fast food industry thus far, and it would set a precedent for all service industries across the board to be able to have something to look forward to--hope to have negotiating on our own terms and not on.the bosses' terms. For a lot of part-time workers, fast food is one of their only options of employment."
According to organizers, they've been receiving calls and messages of support from other Jimmy John's workers around the country, with some even angling towards their own union campaigns. The IWW's strategy of solidarity unionism, which builds collective power without having to focus on an official NLRB election, enables such workers to act without first having a majority at their shops. Nonetheless, they said, an "overwhelming majority" of Minneapolis Jimmy John's workers are standing together.
Store managers at Jimmy John's--not all of whom are happy with the Mulligans' oversight, by a long shot--are told their employment is "not a job, but a lifestyle."
For the store's lowest paid workers and the new Union, their employment is also not just a job, but part of a larger struggle for a safe, fair and healthy workplace and society.
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