The organizing drive at fast-food chain Jimmy John's in Minneapolis suffered a setback when the union lost in a razor thin 85-87 vote, October 22.
Organizing is a challenge for Jimmy John's workers. Most workers are under thirty and don't view their jobs as permanent, the monthly workforce turnover is about fifty percent, and only 1.8 percent of fast-food workers are unionized. But the bad economy means more workers are locked into this industry, and the conditions at Jimmy John's - minimum wage, few hours, no benefits - give them every reason to fight back.
The workers joined up to build their Jimmy John's Workers Union. They demanded fair wages, job security, guaranteed hours, sick days, an end to sexual harassment in the workplace, and respect. "We're tired of getting treated like garbage. We don't get paid well, and we get horrible hours," said Jen Thompson, sandwich-maker and mother of two.
The Jimmy John's ownership responded with full force. They hired union-busting firm Labor Relations Institute, Inc., and held captive audience meetings to scare workers. Workers allege illegal intimidation and threats of retaliation.
Following the fashion of the rabid right wing, F. Vincent Vernuccio, formerly a Department of Labor official under George W. Bush and now a "labor consultant," wrote on the eve of the election that the union was "an avowed communist organization" and said of the vote, "Workers will have the choice to vote for capitalism or communism." Showing supreme attentiveness to the workers' grievances, he called their chosen fight back method "a bad joke," and after writing out what he called "an economics 101 lesson" for them to explain why their bare-bones compensation and poor conditions were necessary, warned that they "may indeed organize themselves out of a job."
According to the eatery's corporate website, the average franchise shop makes yearly profits of $264,270, on investment capital of between $305,500 and $460,500. MikLin Enterprises, owner of the Minneapolis Jimmy John's franchises, had no problem shelling out over $84,500 - around $1,000 per 'no' vote - on their anti-union campaign.
The vote defeat is not the end for the unionization drive. "We are extremely disappointed with the company's conduct in this matter; rather then letting simply letting us vote, management chose to break the law repeatedly during the last six weeks ... We do not recognize these election results as legitimate and will continue to fight for our demands," said worker Erik Forman. The workers have charged MikLin with 22 violations of the National Labor Relations Act.
Ayo Collins, delivery driver, says the union "hasn't put all their eggs in one basket" and has multiple avenues of action still open to them. "This is just the beginning of the fight," said Collins.