What Fired Chicago Employees Are Teaching Fast Food Workers Nationwide

February 5, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

Fast Food workers celebrate after winning back their jobs.

Fast Food workers celebrate after winning back their jobs.

Chicago, Illinois – The looming threat of losing a job or having hours cut is on the mind of every fast food worker who steps up for a living wage and improved working conditions – but the Snarf’s sandwich shop workers in the Windy City who successfully won back their jobs plus a month’s pay this week, are demonstrating that getting canned is not the end of the story.

On Monday, Snarf’s sandwich shop workers and their allies from the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, announced that the colorado-based chain is set to rehire all the workers that the company callously fired when it announced via e-mail that they were shutting down three days before last Christmas.

Although, shocked and stunned, the axed workers never let up, and came right back with job actions at Snarf’s outlets around Chicago on December 23, and again on January 8 – protesting both low-wages and their unjust terminations. 

“We weren’t afraid to stand up and fight back,” Kevin Brown told LaborPress. “I think we had everything to gain by fighting back.”

The 25-year-old ex-Snarf’s employee isn’t sure if he’ll return to the sandwich shop when it reopens later this month, but he hopes that the victory he and his co-workers achieved sends an inspiring message to other low-wage earners toiling at the bottom of the $200 billion a year fast food industry.

“We want this to be an example of what happens when workers fight back against this kind of treatment,” Brown said.

Lillian Henehan addresses co-workers and supporters.

Lillian Henehan addresses co-workers and supporters.

Workers at the 600 West Chicago Snarf’s sandwich shop found themselves jobless following months of agitating for a living wage through the “Fight For 15” campaign, and the company – which expects to have 50 stores nationwide by 2018 – announced that they were shutting down the outlet for remodeling. 

“Our employees were originally terminated because we decided to close the restaurant for several weeks over the holidays when we're slow for re-concepting and remodeling, [sic]” said Jill Preston, Snarf’s director of marketing.

But that explanation, which also follows a formal Facebook apology from Snarf’s CEO and owner Jim Seidel, doesn’t wash with workers who find the timing of the terminations “suspicious.”

“From what I understand, they had plans to do some remodeling of the store, and they wanted to close,” Brown said. “But we were fired – instead of just being laid off until they reopened.  That’s what really angered all of us.”

From the outset, employees working at the Chicago fast food joint said that they were able to motivate each other and stay actively engaged as a highly cohesive unit.

“I think what got everybody on board more than anything was just to remind them that, yeah, something bad could come out of all this,” said Lillian Henehan, another 25-year-old former Snarf’s employee. “But nothing good is coming out of not doing anything. We said, if we don’t raise a fuss, we’re not going to see any changes. Where as if we do – we just might be able to get something out of it.”

Nationally, the median wage for fast food workers is less than $9 an hour.  

Each job action that the hard-pressed employees staged only ramped up the intensity they felt.

“We knew that there were risks involved,” Henehan added. “With every action that we did, we never knew what was going to happen next. We just knew that the pressure was heightened each time.”

That tenacity appears to have only solidified following the mass firings when the terminated Snarf’s workers returned to the streets, began a petition that garnered hundreds of signatures, and started eliciting public support in applying direct pressure to Snarf’s corporate headquarters. 

“When we all got terminated, we just knew we were going to continue bringing the pressure,” Henehan continued. “More than anything, I think we're all just grateful it ended the way that it did because it just shows across the board, that if you stick together with the power of organizing – this can become the story.”

Snarf's workers who won back their jobs are vowing to continue the fight for a $15 an hour living wage. 

February 5, 2014

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