The Jimmy Johns Workers struggle, after Labor Day

7 Sep

Yesterday, on ‘Labor Day’ I met with new Buffalo resident & UB student, Crescenzo Scipione, a former Students for a Democratic Society activist in Rochester. Crescenzo alerted some of Buffalo’s activists to the new labor dispute between the new Jimmy Johns Workers Union (JJWU: ), organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and Jimmy Johns a new national greasy sub & sandwich franchise. The IWW has organized the JJWU in response to the company’s owners disdain to their workers grievances. The national owners have refused to sit down with the fast food workers union campaign.

The demands of the workers are for fairness and fair compensation. The Jimmy Johns Workers Union demand: higher wages above the minimum; consistent schedules and minimum length shifts; sick days; direct compensation for work related injuries; an end to sexual harassment at work; and, basic fairness at work. These conditions to some degree are enjoyed by workers in union shops around the country.

At the moment Jimmy Johns’ owners, Rob and Mike Mulligan of Miklin Inc., have refused to talk to the JJWU and their campaign. According to the JJWU website, Rob and Mike make an annual profit of $2.3 million individually and their planned franchise expansion will cost $1.2 million alone. Including the owners personal profit & the cost of capital expansion the Jimmy Johns franchise makes $264,270.00, thereby making their non-union, low-wage, sub franchise very profitable. Their small sub-sweat-shop franchise has opened up a beachhead in Buffalo (one of three shops in New York State).

Why is Jimmy Johns Sub Shop so important? As of 2010 the service sector comprises 76.9 percent of the U.S. economy according to the CIA fact-book. At the turn of the century the IWW (“Wobblies”) were persecuted because unlike the then separate, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (now AFL-CIO conglomerate), the Wobblies advocated for workers control of industry and their direct demands. Today, the Wobblies are organizing workers in the small part-time jobs which are seen as expendable; the IWW is organizing the JJWU, while the establishment Labor Unions accept the legalized exploitation in America’s fast-food shops, retail stores, and coffee shops.

Capitalism has changed since the emergence of modern labor unions. Neoliberal capitalism is based upon finance, selling products, and consumption- not producing anything. Our labor goes to literally just making money by exploiting everything around us, and this system manifests itself in the service sector (retail, food-service, etc..). The factory floor of the 21st century is the un-unionized sub and sandwich shops. If the business unions are not using their money and their influence to change the labor laws so they can make the conditions fair and just in places like Jimmy Johns what are they doing? Oh yeah, they’re busy working on the 2010 bi-elections for the Democratic Party.

The IWW has called for a ‘national week of action’ beginning this week to put economic pressure on the company to meet with the workers, recognize the unions authority, and negotiate with the workers fairly. The IWW only has its activists to rely on as opposed to teams of lawyers and staff like the moneyed unions so a network activists have initiated informal pickets and leftleating campaigns of Jimmy Johns. Locally, some area activists have committed themselves to handing out literature in front of Jimmy Johns this week beginning at 1pm, and there’s legitimate discussion about mobilizing for a small picket later in the week.

Buffalo is the second poorest city in the United States, and any actions to “create jobs” amongst Buffalo’s elite usually amounts to chain stores and franchises like Jimmy Johns. In many cases these part-time and low-wage jobs are not an option for the employees. If we can unionize a place like Jimmy Johns Sub Shop, the national struggle for their union will reverberate throughout places like Buffalo and give service sector workers like the ones forming the JJWU a solution to fight back against exploitation and abuse at work.

For more information on the campaign; more importantly, if you know any Jimmy Johns employees, visit the Jimmy Johns Workers Union Website:


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