Jimmy John’s employees at ten franchise stores in Minnesota have been trying to organize a union and improve their working conditions. One of their key demands was paid sick leave. The employer even enforced an attendance policy that assigned points towards discipline if an employee missed work because the employee was sick and did not find a replacement for that day.
Four employees met with management and presented a letter from employees asking for paid sick leave. After the employer failed to respond, employees put up posters on community bulletin boards in the public areas of several stores and outside in neighborhoods, within two blocks of each Jimmy John’s store, requesting that community members call the stores’ owner to support their efforts to gain paid sick leave.
The employer removed the posters and fired six employees for leading and developing the Sandwich Poster campaign. The employer issued three other employees final, written warnings threatening discharge for their involvement in the organizing drive over paid sick leave.
Workers Filed Charges Claiming Actions Protected
The Union seeking to represent the employees filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They claimed the employer violated employees’ rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act by discharging and issuing warnings to employees for participating in the Sandwich Poster campaign.
Section 7 provides that “employees shall have the right of self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations…and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of…mutual aid or protection.” The Employer defended the discharges and the discipline claiming the Sandwich Poster campaign was disloyal and publicly disparaged Jimmy John’s product and therefore was not protected activity under federal labor law.
NLRB Rules Postings a Protected Collective Action
The NLRB ruled that the Sandwich Poster campaign was directly tied to the dispute over sick leave and soliciting public support for the employees seeking paid sick leave was protected activity. It ordered that the fired employees be reinstated with back pay. The employer has appealed and the case is still pending in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the Jimmy John’s employees’ demand for a change in the sick leave policy was part of their unionization campaign, Section 7 rights apply more broadly. Section 7 protects efforts by 2 or more employees taking action regarding the terms of their employment, regardless of whether the employees are seeking union representation. If employees are disciplined for taking such action or for publicizing their dispute with their employer, they may have a claim that the employer violated their Section 7 rights.
Questions About Your Rights Under the National Labor Relations Act
Have you joined with other employees to seek a change in your pay, benefits or working conditions? And have you been disciplined or threatened with discipline because of it? Hawks Quindel’s attorneys can review the facts of your case and provide you with guidance whether you have engaged in activity that is protected under Section 7 or other relevant state and federal law. Contact us today to discuss your right to concerted activity in the workplace.
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