Jimmy John's food-poisoning poster fight moves to Washington
Should workers be fired for distributing this poster?
Jimmy John's Workers Union
This fight's going all the way to the top. The latest battle in Jimmy John's workers fight for better pay and working conditions is getting adjudicated in Washington, D.C.
Remember the poster union supporters bombed the city with in March? Drawing attention to what the union says is an unfair and unsafe sick-leave policy, the poster made a pretty graphic point: Sick food workers can get customers sick.
But telling customers your food will make them sick was also an aggressive attack on Jimmy John's bottom line, and Miklin Enterprises, the owner of the targeted franchises, reacted swiftly, firing six employees thought to be connected to the poster campaign.
No fair, said the workers -- nothing in the poster was untrue, and besides, it was part of a union effort and therefore protected under labor law. They filed a complaint with the local office of the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB investigated, but the fliers posed a thorny legal question.
Under the law, employees can't be fired for organizing-related activities. But that protection doesn't extend to willfully sabotaging an employer's business.
So are the fliers protected or not? It was a complicated enough issue that the local NLRB bumped the question up to national headquarters in Washington.
"There's no question that the fliers invoked part of their labor dispute in asking for sick time," says Marlin Osthus, regional director of the NLRB. "The question is whether it is disloyal to the company or undermining the employer's product, suggesting to the public that the sandwiches could make them sick."
A national ruling on the contentious posters might take a while, Osthus says.
"The last case we submitted took four or five months."
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