Jimmy John's Union

Jimmy John’s Struggle Continues

Several months ago, we reported on the effort of workers at Minneapolis Jimmy John’s locations to win union recognition from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  The election took place on October 22nd, and was ultimately lost by the narrowest of margins (85-87).  However, a subsequent investigation, requested by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), found that the owners of the franchises in question, Mike and Rob Mulligan, engaged in multiple illegal anti-union activities during the election.  Therefore, the NLRB declared the election to be voided.

This in itself is a victory and shows that the Mulligan brothers were only able to initially “defeat” the unionization effort by resorting to illegal means. The ruling also means that early in March, the Jimmy John’s workers are eligible to file for a new election (60 days after the ruling), that the campaigning period following the filing would be an abbreviated 30 days, and that mandatory employee meetings must be held in all the affected workplaces where a representative from the NLRB will be present to read out the ruling, essentially forcing the Mulligans to admit their guilt and wrong-doing in the full light of the workers.

Such a situation places the union in an extremely favorable position and makes a victory in the new election very likely, although victory in an ongoing struggle should never be taken for granted. However, as of our publication date, it is unclear whether the IWW is going to take this road.

According to their website for the Jimmy John’s Workers’ Union, their current strategy is to offer the Mulligan brothers an “olive branch” of a “10 Point Program for Justice at Jimmy John’s…[b]ased around benefits that workers in many other industries take for granted, the program is the response of Jimmy John’s workers to their most pressing problems on the job. Core demands include sick days, improved job security, guaranteed work hours, a reasonable pay increase and regular raises, improved harassment policies, other basic job benefits, and the establishment of a system of shop committees giving workers a democratic voice within the company.”

The IWW says on their website that only if the Mulligan brothers “refuse to cooperate” will the union “return to the trenches and continue the fight for union recognition.”

Obviously, these demands are reforms worth fighting for, but nonetheless, it is hard to understand why an offer to forego another NLRB election is even being offered to the Mulligans.

We should of course always be aware of the balance of forces, and be willing to accept a compromise when it genuinely is the best that can be won at any given time, always explaining the reality of the situation openly to the workers in order to continually raise the consciousness and fighting spirit of the class generally, and of the workers in a shop in particular. But in this case, with the balance tipped so heavily in favor of the workers, it makes no sense to offer to take the union vote “off the table,” even if it is just a tactical move to place the blame for intransigence and unwillingness to negotiate on the bosses.

This can only serve to confuse the issues and miseducate the workers and their supporters. Without a union and legally-recognized rights to bargain collectively, any gains made by the present generation of JJ workers could be easily taken away from JJ workers in the future.

If we are to properly wage any union struggle, we must begin from a correct estimation of the forces at work in our society and in the workplace. In capitalist society, in all cases, this means having a class struggle approach to unionism, i.e. an understanding that the bosses’ and the workers’ interests are fundamentally at odds. This should be a lesson that the IWW should understand well. As their preamble states:  “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.”  This is the beginning of wisdom for a member of the working class.

In fact, this is something that the Mulligan brothers themselves probably understand well, but despite the balance of forces being against them at this point and the somewhat modest nature of many of the proposals in the “10 Point Program,” they are unlikely to accept this compromise for a number of reasons.  First, in general, they have shown themselves to be unresponsive and arrogant throughout this struggle.  Second, they understand the example any reforms or even minor victories in this struggle could show to fast-food workers around the country.  They are no doubt receiving support from quarters, both in the Twin Cities area and around the country, who would like to prevent this precedent from being set. And finally, as was stated above, they likely understand something that the Jimmy John’s workers themselves instinctively understand, i.e. that their interests are diametrically opposed.

Whether or not the Mulligans accept the IWW’s offer of reconciliation, a plan should be organized for an intensive unionization campaign period regardless. Meetings of interested workers should be organized to discuss the issues invlved and the importance of voting in the union, with addresses and other contact info collected and managed responsibly (the inability to locate prospective voters to get them ballots on the day of the original NLRB election was another issue in the union’s defeat). Community meetings, and if necessary, pickets of key Jimmy John’s locations should be organized to make the public aware that the campaign continues. Public sympathy was high last time, and given the movement in Wisconsin, is likely to be even higher this time around.

All support to the Jimmy John’s workers! For NLRB recognition of the Jimmy John’s Workers Union, including their right to collectively bargain with their employer!


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