A court has ruled that a company that owns 10 Jimmy John’s sandwich locations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was justified in firing a group of workers who produced posters protesting the company’s lack of paid sick time. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2014 ruling this week, ruling that the MikLin Enterprises was justified in firing the workers in part because they were disloyal in how they spread the word about its sick time policy via a meme.
The decision reversed a 2014 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, which found in favor of the employees. The method the employees chose to make their case about sick time―posters raising the notion of ill employees going to work anyways and preparing sandwiches that could sicken customers―was reportedly central to the Eighth Circuit’s decision.
Specifically, the court ruled that the suggestion customers might be imperiling their health by eating at Jimmy John’s constituted an attack on Jimmy John’s labor practices and on its products, thus giving the company fair reason to terminate their employments. The image they produced is embedded below; it also listed the owner of the franchises by name and implored people to call him to demand Jimmy John’s employees be given sick days.
The ruling says the six unionized workers―members of the Industrial Workers of the World―were found to have acted outside the protections of federal labor law. In 2011, one of the fired employees gave the following assessment of the situation, saying “This is old-school vicious anti-union behavior, like you’d see before workers had any rights at all. You can’t fire workers for organizing activities—we’re filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board today.”
According to the Washington Post, the conflict centered around the company’s policy of requiring workers to find replacements for their shifts before they call in sick. The poster was reportedly sent out to more than 100 media outlets in 2011, amid a particularly nasty flu season.