Jimmy Johns

Notes from a Jimmy John’s Worker (Part 2)


This part two of our three part series on work at Jimmy John’s.  Click here if you have not had a chance to read Part One.

As soon as there is a break in the flow of customers, the manager sets to dismissing people. You may be scheduled to work from 11am or 12pm until 2pm or 3pm, but the worker is dismissed with a “You can go,” or “You’re done,” as soon as fewer workers can take up the workload at full speed. In this way, exploitation is maximized and labor costs–the cost of wages–are minimized.

Work, during “rushes” or when “catching up,” is conducted at break-neck speed, increasing the risk of injury. Then hours are cut, the worker is sent home, and must wait two or four weeks to see the wages from that day. The workers remaining “close down” the back line, wash the dishes, put away the food, and so on, sweep and mop after lunch, refill the ice machine, stock everything up and generally restore the shop to something like presentable.

By two or three o’clock, the after-lunch tasks are done and the staff has been reduced to three or four. More bread dough is set into pans, “daily beautification list” tasks are carried out, and customers are served. After calculating labor costs, the lunch-time supervisor and the GM might leave, and by 4-5pm the second shift workers come in, working until closing time at 9:10pm, when one of them might leave and the two remaining workers close down the store. After the store is cleaned up and ready to go for the morning, the supervisor is left alone in the back finishing up paperwork and, afterwards, delivers the day’s deposit to the bank. This is actually very dangerous, and making a worker work after clocking out is of questionable legality, but I do not think that Jimmy John has lost any sleep over that.

On any given day of the workweek the store will bring in anywhere from $500-$3,000 in revenue. Labor costs, however, are only between $150-$300 per day. Rent is a few thousand a month, perhaps, and this is covered in the first half of the first week of the month. Food is a huge expense for which I do not have the appropriate figures, although they are relatively easily available. Utilities cost, I would guess altogether $200 or $300 a month, although I do not have that figure either. A great expense for the firm is the money paid to the corporation for the franchise, a figure which, if I remember correctly, stands at around 10 percent of revenue.  The company that owns my store owns 23 Jimmy John’s franchises throughout the country, and Jimmy John’s itself has, I understand, around 300 stores nationwide. Jimmy John himself owns 70% of the shares of the corporation.

My store’s franchisee is probably making quite a killing off of working us half to death. Jimmy John himself, reportedly quite a racist and very overweight, definitely is doing quite well for himself, and I would posit that junior share-holder investment firm Weston Presidio are also doing fine. JJ workers, on the other hand, are struggling at minimum wage, often with second or third jobs (often the case in the service industry), and it is all but a rule that JJ workers live below the federally determined poverty line, which is itself well below the income considered a “living wage.”

I make minimum wage despite a year’s experience at this company and close to ten years of experience in the service industry, working in every capacity in every kind of restaurant and store. I was promised a set schedule on the date of hire, but have not received any such thing. I get between 15-25 hours a week, which varies wildly depending on the whims of my GM and the ebb and flow of business. Especially frustrating is to come to work and be told to go home because on that day the “extra” worker is unneeded. This happened to me just last week.

I don’t have a weekend but instead am scheduled random days off, although in planning the schedule, my GM ostensibly tries to be fair and consistent. The worst thing about this precarious arrangement, which is entirely beneficial to the capitalists and entirely detrimental to the workers, is the almost total inability of a worker to make plans more than a week in advance, and often no more than a day or two in advance, the new schedule often not being posted until only one or two days before the new workweek begins. This style of management is useful to the capitalists since a set schedule and an end to early dismissal and the regular requests from managers to stay late would almost certainly affect profits. They prefer maximum flexibility on the part of the worker–their dream is that the worker could be as flexible as the consumer is whimsical.

JJ workers do not receive a free meal like the manager unless they work eight or more hours at a time on a given day. Split shifts, although unusual, do not count. Instead, workers are offered a 50% discount “for 15 minutes before or after your shift.” It doesn’t matter that one’s hands may have made fifty or a hundred sandwiches, cleaned the store top to bottom, raced around like a lunatic, been burned and cut, slipped and barely averted some bloody spill, been insulted, harassed and talked down to by the customers and management.

Nor does it matter that one may not have had a bite to eat or a penny to buy it. It does not matter if all you have in your refrigerator is butter and jalapeños, in your pantry nought but cheap bread and crummy peanut butter, in your stomach nothing but stomach acid; you can’t have anything to eat for free. The rule is so ludicrous that it is seldom observed, even by the GM. We regularly pick like scavenging birds in a fast food parking lot at spare pieces of bread flung from sandwiches under manufacture, swiping a tiny bit of mayo, a few tomatoes, a piece of bacon, or perhaps instead only a little half-scoop of the tuna-salad mix.

Soda, however, is completely gratis. If a worker can find the time between the phone ringing, the doorbell chiming, the oven buzzing, and the manager shouting, that worker is entitled to take a little four- or six-ounce cone cup with which to have scarcely a gulp of water or soda or tea. This, of course, is discouraged, but not technically against the rules. Soda is sustenance for the empty stomach. The reason it is free, though–apart from the fact that it is extraordinarily cheap, costing the employer as much as 10 or 20 times less than the consumer price–is of course that it is simple sugar and caffeine, both addictive and the latter a stimulant. Who cares a lick about the worker’s physiology when the pace of work is at stake?

Continue with Part Three.

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