Jimmy John's illegally fired union organizers, judge rules [UPDATE]

This union poster shows the "difference" between sandwiches made by sick and healthy workers.
This union poster shows the "difference" between sandwiches made by sick and healthy workers.

Jimmy John's violated labor law when it fired six union organizers in March 2011, a judge ruled Friday.

Administrative judge Arthur Amchan's ruling follows a February trial involving Miklin Enterprises, a local Jimmy John's franchisee, and the National Labor Relations Board. In 2010, several Jimmy John's employees tried to organize the nation's first fast food union. Six of them were fired in March 2011 after posting flyers around the city criticizing Jimmy John's sick day policy that employees can't call in sick if they don't find another worker to replace them.

That, union organizers suggested, led to sick workers coming into work and filling sandwiches with germs. Shortly after the workers began their poster campaign, Jimmy John's fired them, which led the National Labor Relations Board to file a complaint in November against Miklin Enterprises.

In his ruling, Judge Amchan says the fired workers -- David Boehnke, Micah Buckley-Farlee, Erik Forman, Davis Ritsema, Max Specter, and Mike Wilkow -- were illegally fired by Jimmy John's. Amchan ruled that the workers' posters were "protected activity" under labor law.

The store "engaged in unfair labor practices" by removing the workers' posters inside the Riverside Jimmy John's store and firing the workers, Judge Amchan wrote.

The judge also ruled that the store "engaged in unfair labor practices" by "posting an employee's telephone number on Facebook and soliciting other employees, supervisors, and managers to call or text the employee about his protected activities."

Because Jimmy John's "discriminatorily discharged" the employees, Judge Amchan has ordered the store to offer the employees their job back "and make them whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits."

The store has the option to appeal the judge's ruling. Fired worker Erik Forman doesn't expect the store to rehire the employees any time soon.

"I expect them to continue to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on their lawyer rather than do what's right," Forman said.

Jimmy John's has previously insisted that the staff firings came down due to the workers' "disparagement of the product," or the suggestion that Jimmy John's sandwiches might make customers sick, not the labor dispute.

"We welcome this ruling as a victory for worker's rights," Forman added. "Unfortunately, we feel justice has been anything but swift. We were fired over a year ago at this point."

UPDATE: Jimmy John's spokeswoman Kimberly Fields sent us the following statement in response to the judge's ruling this afternoon:

We are in the process of carefully reviewing the NLRB Administrative Law Judge's decision, however, we respectfully disagree with the findings and will decide our next steps shortly. The six MikLin employees were discharged in March 2011 not because of their union organizing activity, but because of their malicious actions to disparage Jimmy John's and its products.

The claim that MikLin workers are required to come to work at Jimmy John's while sick, thereby infecting the food with their germs, is patently false. MikLin has an outstanding record for food safety and quality assurance and adheres to all federal and state regulations. The Union's false and defamatory statements are belied by the fact that the Minnesota Department of Health's regular inspections have resulted in no significant food safety or sanitation related citations.

MikLin's absentee policies are fair and typical of the Quick Service Food industry. Employees who are ill with vomiting or diarrhea, or who have an intestinal bacterial pathogen capable of being transmitted by food are required by MikLin and by Minnesota law to call in sick and not come to work. There is no credible evidence that any MikLin Jimmy John's employee has ever been discharged for calling in sick. MikLin has and will continue to provide quality products and service to our customers and greatly values the dedication of our fine team of employees.


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