One year later, judge orders Jimmy John’s to reinstate fired whistleblowers

Pro-union Jimmy John's workers picketed outside a Minneapolis store last year.

A federal judge last month ordered a Twin Cities-based Jimmy John’s restaurant franchise to reinstate six workers fired over one year ago after blowing the whistle on company policies that expose customers to sandwiches made by sick workers.

The union seeking to organize Jimmy John’s workers praised the ruling as a victory for whistleblower rights, but acknowledged that for Jimmy John’s franchise owners Mike and Rob Mulligan, the firings had the desired effect of slowing the union drive’s momentum.

“It has already been over a year since we were illegally fired for telling the truth,” said Erik Forman, one of the fired workers. “For all the hard work and dedication of the NLRB’s civil servants, employers like Jimmy John’s prefer to break the law and drag cases through the courts for years rather than let workers exercise their right to win fair pay, sick days and respect through union organization.”

Despit the judge’s ruling, which requires Jimmy John’s to reinstate the six workers with back pay, the case may not be over yet. The employer could manipulate the appeal process to stall resolution of the case for several more years.

In January 2011, Jimmy John’s workers began a public campaign to expose the Mulligans practice of punishing workers who call in sick without finding a substitute.

Workers say the Mulligans stonewalled employee requests for sick-day policy reform for more than two months, prompting union supporters to take their message to the public. The Mulligans lashed out in retaliation, firing six workers and disciplining others.

On the witness stand, Mike Mulligan admitted under oath that he had fired the six workers because he perceived them as the “leaders and developers” of a unionization effort, according to workers.

Jimmy John’s workers came within two votes of winning union representation in an 85-87 vote that the NLRB later threw out due to more than 30 employer violations of federal labor law during the election period.

The Jimmy John’s Workers Union, an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World, has vowed to press forward with its campaign for fair pay, guaranteed hours, sick days and respect and dignity in fast food. For more on the union, go to jimmyjohnsworkers.org.

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