The National Labor Relations Board said the owner of ten Twin Cities Jimmy John's sandwich shops illegally fired or disciplined workers involved in union activity.
The workers distributed fliers about a dispute over sick leave with the shops' owner. The NLRB ruling that the workers' actions were protected under labor law will be reviewed by an administrative law judge. The judge could order reinstatement of the employees and back pay for them.
One of the fired workers, Micah Buckley-Farlee, said the chain forced workers to work while sick.
"After months of trying to talk to them about this, they just never responded," Micah Buckley-Farlee said. "So, we ended up putting up around 3,000 posters in neighborhoods around Jimmy John's stores. They were a bit upset."
The NLRB determined the workers were engaged in protected union activity but the ruling doesn't resolve the issue, said Marlin Osthus, regional director.
"The case will be heard by an administrative law judge, and if the judge agrees, he or she would order reinstatement of the employees and back pay for the employees for the time they have been off work," Osthus said.
In an emailed statement, Michael L. Mulligan, president of MikLin Enterprises, Inc., the company that owns the Jimmy John's franchises said, "We believe that the union publicity campaign falsely implying our customers are at risk for foodborne illness is not activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act and we will vigorously defend all allegations of the Complaint."
The company that owns the sandwich shops could not be reached for comment.
Last fall, a union vote at the shops narrowly failed. The NLRB overturned the vote results. But the union organizers haven't sought a new election. The union hopes the shops' owner will voluntarily recognize the union as the workers' bargaining agent.