Food & Drink

NLRB: Jimmy John's Can't Fire Workers for Icky Sick-Leave Protest


The government is ordering a Jimmy John’s franchisee to rehire workers who were fired after putting up posters suggesting that the people making customers’ sandwiches could be ill.

In a decision dated Thursday, Aug 21, the National Labor Relations Board found that a Minnesota Jimmy John’s violated the National Labor Relations Act when it fired half a dozen workers active in a union campaign by the Industrial Workers of the World. According to the NLRB, pro-union workers, to protest their lack of paid sick days, had put up posters on community bulletin boards in the stores and in public places in the vicinity.

The workers “clearly intend to harm [the company] and the security of the 240 local jobs we provide,” said Mike Mulligan, the president of the franchisee, MikLin Enterprises. Although U.S. labor law generally bans retaliation against workers for taking collective action to improve their working conditions, the NLRB has ruled that companies can punish workers whose communications to the public are “so disloyal, reckless or maliciously untrue as to lose the [National Labor Relations] Act’s protection.” So management argued it had the right to can the Jimmy John’s activists.

The NLRB disagreed. The Labor Board wrote that the posters’ claim that they lacked paid sick days “was factually accurate,” that there was no evidence the workers “acted recklessly,” and that by asking customers to call their boss and tell him they should have sick days, they “demonstrated that they were motivated by a sincere desire to improve their terms and conditions of employment.”

Along with firing the workers, the NLRB found that the franchisee also broke the law in other ways, including by supervisors when they were “encouraging employees to disparage an employee union supporter on Facebook.” Jimmy John’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eidelson is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington.

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