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Vol. 74/No. 44      November 22, 2010

(front page)
Attempt to organize fast food
chain ‘captured imagination’
Workers fight for union at Jimmy John's
Picket line outside Jimmy John’s sandwich restaurant in Minneapolis. Union narrowly lost election to organize sandwich workers, meat cutters, and delivery workers at 10 shops in Minneapolis area by a two-vote margin.

MINNEAPOLIS—The Jimmy John’s Workers Union has filed an objection to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), demanding that it nullify the October 22 union representation election. In a widely watched vote—both here and nationally—the union narrowly lost, with 85 workers voting for and 87 against.

The unionization drive at Jimmy John’s is one of the few national attempts to organize fast-food workers. It received broad solidarity among working people in the Twin Cities.

The objection filed with the NLRB outlines a pattern of labor rights violations, from firing of pro-union workers and bribe offers to threats of closing shops if workers voted for the union.

The Jimmy John’s Workers Union is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World. Leading up to the vote, some 60 percent of Jimmy John’s workers signed cards asking for a union vote.

The union campaign centered on organizing sandwich workers, meat cutters, and delivery workers at 10 Jimmy John’s sandwich shops in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. The shops advertise mottos like “The Customer Is Usually Right” and “Subs So Fast You’ll Freak,” while their Web site says, “Jimmy John’s offers awesome opportunities for growth and adventure.”

Union workers counter with their own motto: “Wages So Low You’ll Freak.” This popular slogan is worn on T-shirts by many supporters of the union’s fight.

David Boehnke, a sandwich maker at Jimmy John’s for almost two years, told the Militant the main issues that motivated workers to seek out the union included “low wages, working erratic hours, sent home after short shifts, no paid sick days, and no medical benefits.” The workers are paid the minimum wage of $7.25 or slightly above.

In response to the union’s organizing effort, franchise owner Mike Mulligan, hired an antilabor outfit—Labor Relations Services, Inc.—spending, more than $84,500 on an antiunion campaign, according to the Department of Labor.

Mulligan has led a red-baiting attack on the union, which he says is a “socialist-anarchist organization” that “proudly preaches the overthrow of capitalism.”

Boehnke said the union organizing drive “appeared on people’s radar screens and captured the imagination of lots of people. They identified with our union’s demands.” In reaching out for support, members of the Jimmy John’s Workers Union spoke at union meetings and received endorsement and financial help from several unions in the Twin Cities area. They included the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO; Local 1189 (formerly 789) of the United Food and Commercial Workers; Service Employees International Union Local 26; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800; and United Auto Workers Local 879.

Organizers of the union say they will continue to press their fight to build the union.
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On the Picket Line
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