More actions planned as workers seek a raise and respect on the job
By TIM ROWDEN
St. Louis – Jimmy John’s deli workers who went on a one-day strike May 8 to demand a living wage, respect on the job and the right to form a union without retaliation got some back-up May 16.
About 20 fast food workers from other national chains in St. Louis, representatives with Missouri Jobs with Justice and organizers with the St. Louis Organizing Committee – the newly formed independent union for fast food workers – returned to the Jimmy John’s Soulard store May 16 to leaflet customers during the lunch hour.
The leaflets urged customers to send a message to Jimmy John’s – where workers have been publicly humiliated for making mistakes on sandwiches or taking too long in the drive-thru – that St. Louis needs jobs that make the city stronger and managers who respect employees’ hard work.
Some customers, after hearing the workers’ case and what had been going on at Jimmy John’s, turned away and got their lunch elsewhere. Others went inside, but expressed their support for the workers.
“They need to have a little respect for their employees,” Eric Richardson of St. Louis said. “Everyone’s got to work.”
FIRST VICTORY – NOT ENOUGH
The Jimmy John’s Soulard store was actually the scene of the first victory for fast food workers, who legally struck 30 fast food restaurants in St. Louis and St. Louis County May 8 and 9.
An area manager at the store was transferred to another location following the protests after the striking workers explained that one of the reasons they had walked out was that the manager had been publicly humiliating them, making them hold insulting signs in front of their co-workers while he took pictures of them.
Gerniesha Clark was ordered to hold a sign stating, “I was more than 13 seconds in the drive thru.”
Rasheen Aldridge was made to hold a sign stating, “I made 3 wrong sandwiches today.”
Clark and Aldridge and five other workers who struck at Jimmy John’s returned to work last week, buoyed by their first success, but still facing a culture of disrespect on the job.
“This particular restaurant seems to have a culture of not treating workers with much respect,” the Rev. Dr. Marin Rafanan, a Lutheran minister, co-chair, St Louis Workers Rights Board of Missouri Jobs with Justice and director of the St. Louis Can’t Survive on $7.35 campaign, said. “We expect – and should expect – that workers will be treated with dignity in the workplace.”
That’s why organizers and fellow fast food workers turned out last week to pass out leaflets on the Jimmy John’s parking lot, while Clark, Aldridge and their co-workers labored inside.
STANDING WITH FELLOW WORKERS
Olivia Roffle, 23, an employee of Papa John’s on South Grand, was among the workers who turned out to support her fellow fast food workers.
“They were there when we went out and I want to support them and show that that there are people out here who have their backs,” Roffle said. “I know they’ll give me the same support.”
Roffle and the Jimmy John’s workers were among more than 100 who walked off their jobs May 8 and 9. They were walked back to those jobs last week, backed by campaign organizers, faith leaders and community activists.
Roffle, who had been told after walking out that she was being written up for an alleged incident that happened three weeks prior to the walkout, learned when she was walked back that no write-up would be forthcoming. The order to forget the incident apparently came from the corporate office.
“That let’s me know we’re being heard, and we’re being seen,” Roffle said.
And the workers will continue to be seen.
Rafanan said the St. Louis Organizing Committee will support other workers at other stores as needed.
The actions by St. Louis fast food workers are part of a growing movement, and follows similar strikes by low-wage workers in New York and Chicago. Approximately 400 fast food workers walked off their jobs in Detroit on May 10, effectively shutting down some of the stores. About 200 Milwaukee fast food workers went on strike May 15, making it the fifth major U.S. city to have a fast food workers strike.
The strikes by low-wage workers began on Black Friday back in November when hundreds of Walmart workers walked off their jobs. It spread later to fast food in the first-ever strike to hit the industry.
Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the so-called economic recovery, and fast food positions are among the fastest growing in St. Louis, accounting for some 36,000 jobs in the metro area, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Fast food workers bring an estimated $1 billion a year into St. Louis’ economy, yet most earn Missouri’s minimum wage of $7.35, or just above it, and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children.
The St. Louis fast food workers’ campaign “St. Louis Can’t Survive on $7.35” seeks a $15 an hour wage, respect for workers on the job and the right to form a union without retaliation.