The Twin Cities IWW recently donated $200 towards the fund to repair the roof of the East Side Freedom Library. The ESFL is a not-yet-open research resource in St. Paul, which will focus on the history of the east side of St. Paul, as well as African American history, the immigrant experience and working class studies and literature. To contribute to the ‘Raise the Roof’ fund, click here. To find out more about the East Side Freedom Library, check out their website and Facebook page.
MINNEAPOLIS– Three years ago, Jimmy John’s fired six Minneapolis sandwich workers for putting up over 3000 posters publicizing a grisly truth and a simple demand: workers at the chain are routinely forced to come to work and make sandwiches while sick by policies that discipline workers if they stay home sick without finding their own replacement, and minimum-wage pay that makes it impossible to take a day off. Following a National Labor Relations Board ruling last week ordering the company to reinstate the unlawfully fired whistleblowers, the workers have escalated their campaign for paid sick days- this time putting up the now-famous “Sandwich Test” posters coast to coast in a social media challenge.
“Jimmy John’s thought that they could silence us by firing six core members of our organizing effort. They were wrong. Starting on Labor Day, union supporters will be putting up copies of the poster Jimmy John’s fired us for publicizing in cities all across the United States, and sharing photos of the posters on social media. We have simple demands: give workers paid sick days, and comply with the NLRB’s order to reinstate the six of us who spoke out with the truth,” said Erik Forman, IWW organizer.
The bold action comes one week after the National Labor Relations Board has ordered Jimmy John’s to reinstate six workers who were unlawfully fired in 2011 for blowing the whistle on company policies that expose customers to sandwiches made by sick workers. The NLRB decision slaps down the sandwich chain’s appeal of a 2012 trial that brought to light a sickening reality behind the counter at Jimmy John’s, with sworn testimony of workers forced to work with ailments ranging from pink eye to the common flu, and even a collapsed lung. A union survey found that an average of two workers work while sick every day at the Minneapolis franchise of the chain because minimum-wage pay means workers can’t afford to take a day off, and management writes up or fires workers if they take a day off when they are sick without finding a substitute. The IWW Jimmy John’s Workers Union has announced a renewed escalation over Labor Day weekend to call on the company to comply with the NLRB ruling, and underscore demands for paid sick days, a living wage, stable scheduling and guaranteed hours, and tip jars, and better policies around driver safety and compensation.
The campaign for better conditions at the 1,900-location sandwich empire began four years ago this weekend in 2010, when workers at the Minneapolis-area Jimmy John’s franchise owned by Mike and Rob Mulligan staged a work stoppage and picket in protest of minimum wage pay, shifts as short as two or three hours, rampant sexual harassment, arbitrary firings, and being forced to prepare sandwiches while sick. In response, Jimmy John’s launched a campaign of disinformation and intimidation reminiscent of McCarthy-era paranoia, casting their own employees as a “third party” that sought to sow anarchy in the workplace. The employer’s anti-union campaign crossed over into illegality, leading to over 30 Unfair Labor Practice charges and voiding the results of an 85-87 vote against union representation at the chain in October 2010. Jimmy John’s agreed to a re-run election under the terms of a settlement brokered by the NLRB, but rapidly reneged on its pledge to abide by the law with the mass firing of six workers in retaliation for their campaign for paid sick days.
The story of the fight for paid sick days at Jimmy John’s reads like a cautionary tale on the dysfunction of the US labor law system. The six fired workers filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against Jimmy John’s immediately after the mass firing in March 2011. In November 2011, the NLRB filed a complaint against the Minneapolis-area Jimmy John’s franchise asserting that the workers were fired illegally, leading to a trial in February 2012 before an Administrative Law Judge. The Judge ruled in favor of the workers and ordered their reinstatement in April 2012. Mike and Rob Mulligan, co-owners of the Minneapolis-area Jimmy John’s franchise, refused to comply with the judge’s ruling and sought to appeal to the NLRB. Hobbled by congressional infighting for most of 2012 and 2013, the NLRB has taken more than two years to deliver a decision on the appeal. The company now has 30 days to comply or appeal the NLRB’s decision to federal court.
Meanwhile, workers at Jimmy John’s pledge to keep up the fight. Open to employees at the company nationwide, the Jimmy Johns Workers Union is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.
Starting on Friday, August 22nd, IWW workers at a UPS sorting facility in Minneapolis began organizing against their and their coworkers’ labor supporting the ongoing police violence against the population of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man. In a series of actions aimed at a local company shipping questionable shooting-range targets to law enforcement agencies nationwide, workers stood up to the idea that they should have to support racism, brutality, or murder in order to make ends meet. This action was organized in conjunction with, and under the banner of Screw Ups, a rank-and-file newsletter published by IWW workers at the facility for the past year.
Shortly after the murder of Michael Brown and the deployment of militarized police and national guardsmen to Ferguson, IWW workers and in-shop allies began researching Law Enforcement Targets, Inc, a company based in Blaine, Minnesota, which produces shooting range targets and holds hundreds of contracts with police departments, federal agencies, and military branches across the country. The company has held at least 10 contracts with federal agencies in Missouri, and far more with county and local police departments and other agencies. They sell product lines like “Urban Street Violence,” featuring photos of stereotypical “thugs,” and previously were forced to withdraw a line of targets called “No More Hesitation,” featuring pictures of gun-wielding children, pregnant women, mothers, and elderly people, all as if to say that you should consider everyone you see as a threat to be gunned down. Their products are shipped through the UPS sorting facility in Minneapolis every day.
After discovering what products L.E.T. shipped, and who to, a group of workers decided they would not be silent about the connection between their work and murders such as Mike Brown’s. Some removed targets from trailers that would deliver them to law enforcement agencies, while others stood in solidarity and decided not to ferry these packages to their intended trailers. Those who were uncomfortable or unable to directly engage in these actions posed with a sign reading “#handsupdontship” in order to speak out. Actions like this took place in various work areas across the building, and were taken by people with a variety of job positions. The following Monday, several workers continued the action, setting more targets aside for the second consecutive shift. This small group included both workers of color and white workers, both IWW members and not. It was agreed that this protest would be publicized online through the Screw Ups newsletter.
For just over two years, the IWW has actively been organizing workers committees within the UPS hub in Minneapolis. One of the main outgrowths of this campaign has been the publication of Screw Ups, a regular newsletter published by IWW workers in the hub that is handed out by allies outside the building to workers on their way to clock in. This newsletter has consistently raised issues of management harassment, speed-ups, sexual harassment and sexism, racial discrimination on the shop floor, and more, while soliciting contributions from other workers via email to email@example.com. It has educated workers about their rights on the job and called out the exploitation of workers by both UPS and the Teamsters union, which is happy to collect dues from the half of UPS’ workers working in sorting hubs, while forcing concessionary contracts onto this rank-and-file which only preserve poverty wages and sweatshop conditions for those of us who allow UPS a multi-billion dollar company.
However, the newsletter has only been one part of the IWW activity at the hub. IWW Workers and others have frequently confronted management on issues of safety, harassment, and more through collective actions. CB, an IWW organizer, noted, “We all know that conditions at our work are unsafe. We all know that we work too hard for too little pay. We know that the Teamsters either can’t or won’t do anything to fix these issues. And we know that we’re going to have to fight to change things.”
The IWW has always refused to restrict itself to issues of wages and conditions, and has encouraged workers to fight against exploitation and oppression both on the shop floor and off it. Unlike other unions and workers’ organizations which see things such as police brutality as “outside issues,” the IWW has a long history of fighting against the ways that workers are forced to uphold systems of oppression. “The rules say you have to do what you’re told at work. Doesn’t matter what you’re shipping, what horrible things are being done with them, UPS doesn’t care, so you don’t care,” said J.B., another IWW worker, “luckily, breaking the rules is what the IWW does best.”
He further added, “We don’t want to take the place of the Teamsters here. What we want is for workers to have an organization that can fight for—and win—meaningful, concretes improvements in our work and in our lives. We need an organization that isn’t afraid to stand behind workers when we confront management and isn’t interested in some long, drawn out bureaucracy. If they want to keep doing that, good for them. That’s their game, but it’s not ours.”
IWW workers at the Minneapolis hub have stated that they are committed to continuing to organize with their coworkers in order to directly fight against management abuses and other issues workers face. They are also working with UPS workers in other hubs to help them form similar committees and organizations, and are happy to talk to anyone interested in doing so. They urge any interested UPS worker to email the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org, and add, “don’t wait, organize!”
Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people. It is a member-run union for all workers, dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries and in our communities. IWW members are organizing to win better conditions today and build a world with economic democracy tomorrow.