MN Jimmy John’s Workers Call Foul; Owner Refutes

A handful of fired Jimmy John's workers claim that their former employer committed unfair labor practices. The employer says his policies mirror those of other businesses in the industry, and the workers were fired for disbursing "defamatory, disparaging, and dishonest" posters.

The Jimmy John's Workers Union on Thursday filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging unfair labor practices by a local franchisee that owns 10 restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.

According to a copy of the complaint obtained from the local branch of the NLRB, six Jimmy John's employees were fired last week “for engaging in protected concerted activity.”

Mike Mulligan-president of Minnetrista-based MikLin Enterprises, Inc., which operates the local restaurants-said in a Monday phone interview that the activity was not protected under law, and his company dismissed the workers for defaming the company.

The workers were fired for distributing roughly 3,000 posters depicting two identical sandwiches. The posters state that one sandwich was made by a healthy Jimmy John's employee, while the other was made by a sick worker-implying that the restaurant's sick-day policy causes employees to attend work while ill, which could jeopardize customers' health.

Mulligan says the posters crossed the line of what is protected under NLRB regulations. “These posters are false and misleading at best, and in the view of our company, they are defamatory, disparaging, and dishonest,” he said.

Mulligan added that the company has made more than 6 million sandwiches during its nearly 10 years in business-and “no one's ever gotten sick” from eating one.

According to the union's complaint, the employees were fired for “publicizing the ongoing labor dispute over the employer's sick-day policy and related pattern and practice of firing workers for calling in sick.”

Mulligan contends that his company's policies do not penalize workers for calling in sick, and the rules mirror those of many other retailers and the majority of the quick-service restaurant industry.

The attendance policy is based on a point system; employees who are late for work but don't notify their managers in advance can receive up to one point. Workers who call in sick at least an hour before their shift but do not find a replacement receive one point. Workers who receive four points in a year's time are fired.

Erik Forman, one of the fired employees, said in a Monday phone interview that the policy “literally disciplines workers for being sick,” and the union insists workers should receive paid sick days, which they currently do not. He said that the union attempted to meet with the restaurants' owners to discuss the policy, but his group eventually had to resort to hanging the controversial posters.

Mulligan says that workers who show flu-like symptoms are not allowed to attend work, and the company's attendance policy is fair. The point system in effect grants workers up to three sick days for which they can't find a replacement each year, and employees who do find a replacement are not given a point.

And he says that he didn't meet with the union because it does not officially represent Jimmy John's workers, and demanding such a meeting is unlawful.

Last October, the restaurants' workers voted down union representation by the Industrial Workers of the World Jimmy John's Workers Union. The union subsequently filed charges with the NLRB alleging that the franchise had engaged in unfair labor practices leading up to the vote by tightening policies and retaliating against union supporters.

The two sides signed an agreement in January through which Jimmy John's agreed not to discipline or threaten employees based on their union activities, among other measures. The union also was granted an opportunity to conduct another election, although it has not yet exercised that right. For now, Forman says the union will “continue putting pressure on the company to do the right thing.”

Mulligan says his company did the right thing by firing the six workers: “In an effort to protect the jobs of the people who work for this company, it was necessary to prevent these people from continuing to work at our company while they clearly intend to harm it and the security of the 240 local jobs we provide.”