Organizing at Jimmy Johns
This is the third part of a series of concrete examples (Part I – Part II) and very brief summaries of organizations that have some component of direct action and a form of collective bargaining that operate outside the labour relations framework. The following examples are from the IWWs organising efforts in food service. This includes fast food as well as grocery stores in a lot of the examples the IWW actually engaged in innovative organising that broke ground in more high profile campaigns like the well known “Fight for Fifteen” campaigns around raising the minimum wage in the USA.
This week’s piece comes to us Erik Forman, a contributor to Recomposition. Forman cut his teeth organizing as an IWW in different fast food establishments before the recent push by SEIU and other unions. The text is a repost from from Counterpunch’s Monthly Digital Exclusive. In Fast Food Unionism, he gives a broad background of the industry, business union tactics, and draws out some directions that an autonomous movement of fast food workers could take to remedy the issues he identifies. Drawing from his experience both as a worker and a direct organizer in the field, the piece brings a closeness that is often missing in many discussions.
by Emmett J. Nolan
The issue I’m writing about may seem rather trivial to some readers. To be honest, I too was shocked that my co-workers and I had to fight so hard to be heard on such a small and seemingly obvious issue. The issue which management picked to draw a line in the sand over was providing a trash can in the dining area of the café I work at. Yes, a trash can. Something most customers and workers take for granted. Rightfully so, because who could imagine a counter service café with a bus your own table practice operating without a trash can?
In an effort to make the company more green, a composting service was hired and new compostable packaging materials were chosen. Now, compostable items were separated from recycling and garbage. A part of this change included removing all four of the trash cans within the dining and patio area of the café. The cans weren’t replaced with a sorting station like many other businesses had done. Instead the company replaced them with a sign that read:
by Emmett J. Nolan
When we encounter challenges and worsening conditions at work, if we don’t respond immediately to those negative changes we risk having those degraded conditions becoming standard procedure. Whether it’s a reduction of staffing, an increased speed of work or anything else that makes our day-to-day lives on the job more complicated or less valuable, we must act quickly or run the risk of these lower standards becoming firmly established into precedent. The longer we wait to respond to these issues, the more challenging it becomes for us and our co-workers to change them. One such example my co-workers and I encountered involved a safety concern. If we did not respond to it immediately, the result would have been a permanent risk to our well-being.
One day I arrived to work and nothing seemed to be different; a day that was starting off just like the rest. Fifteen minutes into my shift, I needed to slice a loaf of bread for a customer. Our slicer is automatic, just push a button and a weight pushes the bread against a dozen or so jostling blades, neatly slicing a full-size loaf of bread. For years we’ve used this machine with no issue. I trained and seen countless co-workers trained on this machine. Each time, the optical sensor –if triggered– will stop the blades. This feature is pointed out and demonstrated often by one passing their hand by the sensor. The safety feature came in handy in the past when errand objects fell into the slicer and we needed to fetch them out by hand.
by Emmett J. Nolan
On my first day of work, my manager explained to me the three options regarding breaks:
clock out for 30 minutes,
take two 10-minute breaks on the clock, or
take a 20-minute break on the clock.
Additionally, an hour and a half “black-out” period existed for breaks during the busy middle of the day. The actual state law is a 30-minute meal break and two 10-minute rest breaks for a work period over six hours. Not only was this buffet option of breaks illegal, but it was also a strain on the body during a 7 to 9 hour shift. This situation continued on for two years and I discovered that this system was not just limited to my department or workplace, but existed within other departments and at other locations in the company.
by Emmett J. Nolan
Chances are we all will inevitably have a run-in with the disciplinary procedure at work. In these moments, it’s natural to feel targeted personally. Often times the warnings are sprung on you by surprise, there may be multiple managers in the meeting with you, and the process doesn’t resemble how you thought the progressive disciplinary procedure worked.
Mistakes are inevitable; we’re not robots. Since our livelihood is at risk in these moments, when we have to encounter discipline it’s important that it’s carried out in a manner that is transparent and equitable. Additionally, we should all have the ability to state our defense to the accusations that are brought forward in a disciplinary action. Too often management plays the role of judge, jury, prosecution, and jailor without our side of the story ever considered. In fact, while my company’s manager’s handbook states that during any disciplinary meeting with a worker, a manager is required to have a supervisor or another manager present; alternatively when workers request a witness or an advocate within our disciplinary meetings, our requests are routinely denied.
In this article, Madaline tells the story of how she fell into organizing and the IWW – pushed both by terrible bosses and by amazing solidarity among her coworkers.
Working at Artistry
By Madaline Dreyfus
If the first week of work at Artistry Bakery and Cafe was any indication, there was no way this four-month experience should ever have resulted in two of the strongest friendships in my life. I was introduced on the first day to a group of men and women, mostly about University age, who were also going to be working with me at the restaurant. Before our new manager arrived to start the training, I started talking to a tall, tattooed woman, and the conversation turned to things which embarrassed us. I said that I was embarrassed by my one of my middle names, Ruth, and continued for several minutes to tell her how much I disliked this name. Confidently, I ended with “God, I mean, what a horrible thing to do to your daughter. What’s your name?”
Stone-faced she stared and me and said “Ruth”. I was fairly sure she wouldn’t ever want to speak to me again.
The Battle of the Sandwiches: What Does the Bosses’ Offensive Look Like?
by Alex Erikson
If you read stuff about the labor movement of the 1970s and 80s, there is a lot of talkabout the “bosses’ offensive,” an aggressive attack on workers movements by capital.
A friend of mine from Italy told me that in 1977, the bosses and pro-boss workers (we call these people ’scissorbills,’ because their words cut you) staged a march of several thousand people in opposition to the continued wildcat strikes, sabotage, and occasional kneecapping, kidnapping, or assassination of bosses in the plants of northern Italy. This action was sufficient to change the climate and turn the cultural tide against the workers’ insurgency.
In my own workplace, we have seen an ebb and flow of class struggle on a micro-level. Initially, when the union went public, the boss was so afraid of us that he would sneak in and out the back door of the store without us knowing. We actually had a hard time planning actions because we could never find the boss to make demands.