Employees of a Jimmy John's franchise in Minnesota have organized a union and are seeking better pay, better working conditions and more benefits.
Right now the campaign is focused on organizing employees in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. The Jimmy John's sandwich chain, which has over 1,000 stores across the country, is headquartered in Champaign.
An "overwhelming majority" of sandwich workers at the Minneapolis stores favored forming a bargaining unit, according to union member and Jimmy John's worker Mike Wilklow. On Monday the group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to start the formal election process; that election is expected to take place in the coming months, Wilklow said.
Once a majority of employees vote in favor of forming the union, the Minneapolis franchise owner must start negotiating with the union's bargaining team, he said.
Workers announced the formation of the union earlier this month and have picketed outside several Minnesota stores since Labor Day. The union is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, which has been helping Starbucks workers organize in recent years.
"Jimmy John's workers are parents, adults, they're working their way through school. ... They pay minimum wage and people are getting scheduled for one- and two-hour shifts. That barely covers transportation to work," said Jimmy John's employee and organizer Erik Forman.
The union is seeking improvements in worker's compensation (some employees deliver sandwiches on their bicycles), fair scheduling, livable wages and raises and sick days. When employees are sick, they must find someone to cover their shift and when they are unable to do so, some employees will work while ill, Wilklow said.
About 200 employees work at the nine stores in the Minneapolis metro area; the 10th store is opening later this week, Wilklow said. The Minneapolis franchise is owned by Mike and Ron Mulligan, who released the following statement through Jimmy John's public relations firm.
"We are very proud of our employment record in Minneapolis and take issue with the claims by the IWW. We value our relationship with our employees and offer competitive wages and good local jobs. We are dedicated to providing a fair, equal and diverse workplace environment."
Although the organizing campaign is focused on the Minneapolis stores, organizers there said they have been receiving support from workers at stores around the country.
Forman said the organizing campaign has been in the works for several years.
"We've been carefully building support for quite a while," he said.
Some food service employees who work in some of the country's larger restaurants and hotels belong to unions such as the Service Employees International Union, but few fast food workers belong to a union.
"It's quite unusual to organize fast food workers. It has happened on occasions, but it is rare," Edward Hertenstein, a labor educator with the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations.
"People don't stay at these jobs. They're entry-level. You know you're going to move on; however, for many people in today's economy, they are no longer the entry job. They are the job," he said.
That may be less so the case in Champaign-Urbana than in places where there is not a surplus of 18- to 20-year-olds looking for part-time work, he said.
Most of the fast food workers who have organized have tended to do so locally, around one store or a group of local stores, he said.
"It's fairly rare, but they have succeeded in places," he said. The University of Illinois Graduate Employees Organization, for example, represents employees who are not in the same kind of work as the Jimmy John's employees, but they are in a similar field in which there is turnover.
"Every few years, you've pretty much got an entirely new union," he said.