SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) — When workers at the Jimmy Johns restaurant located in Brickyard Plaza heard that customers would be allowed back in the store’s lobby on April 28th, they decided to take matter into their own hands.
“That was really the impetus for us to do this,” Chancellor Martin, a crew member at the restaurant, said. “As soon as we heard that, … many of us knew that we felt very uncomfortable about it. We just started having a conversation about it at work that day- me, John, and a couple other of our coworkers.”
Governor Gary Herbert recently made the decision that Utah would move from the high risk (red) phase to moderate risk (orange). In the orange phase, restaurants can allow customers to dine-in if certain safety precautions are taken.
Feeling that the store’s safety measures fell short of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, local crew members at the Jimmy John’s store researched their rights and delivered a petition to management stating their demands for opening the lobby.
“We figured that this was a very serious situation, and we thought that they would take us more seriously if we went as a group as opposed to individually hearing our grievances,” Martin said.
Crew members felt that the restaurant, which has been running at reduced capacity and offering curbside pickup, was not prepared to safely accommodate customers in the lobby.
The petition states:
“We, the undersigned workers of Jimmy Johns are concerned about the COVID-19 Health Crisis, and are worried about how our current work situation is putting us and others directly in harm’s way.
Consequently, we respectfully and formally request that Jimmy John’s make immediate improvements to our paid time off and workplace health and safety policies. Specifically, that the lobby not be opened until:
1. A 14-day consecutive decline in newly confirmed cases in Utah and there is consistent statewide day-to-day testing.
2. Up to a month of employer paid sick leave if we show symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.
3. Plexiglass barriers that are tall enough to actually block any particulates that may pass at face level, and markings on the floor that are actually six feet apart.”
Click here to read the full petition on change.org.
According to Martin, on Monday, May 4, the workers made their general manager aware of the petition and then sent an email to the franchise owners.
On May 6, workers had a meeting with the owner and co-founder of the local franchise. During the meeting, it was decided that certain demands would be taken into consideration and others not.
“They did decide to order plexiglass barriers for the register because our complaints about the other one- they were just too short,” Martin said. “A lot of us still had a decent part of our heads still sticking out, which obviously defeats the purpose, so they got new ones ordered and are in the store now.”
In addition, markers were added to remind customers to comply with social distancing. For the time being, the franchise owners are not allowing customers into the store.
Martin said the franchise owners have not agreed to keep the lobby closed for as long as the workers would like at this time and the paid time off demand was completely off the table.
Right now, he said the workers are waiting for the local franchise to potentially make these these changes.
“We are really just planning on doing whatever we can to keep ourselves, our families, and the customers safe. We don’t really have anything planned beyond that,” Martin said.
When asked what advice he would give to workers at other companies who don’t feel safe returning to work, John Alger, a delivery driver at Jimmy Johns, said don’t be afraid to speak up.
“You do have rights that corporations need to respect, and I think the big thing is, workers’ lives are more important than any profit coming in,” Alger said.
Martin agreed, adding that management has not in any capacity threatened any of the workers’ jobs throughout the process.
“I guess I would have them know that there are federal protections in place for people to organize in the way that we have been so far, which is why we haven’t been let go from our jobs or anything. We are well within our rights to organize and just make sure they are taking care of us,” he said.
He added that there is power in organizing as a group.
“I would have them know that there is definitely much more power in numbers than there is in any one individual and that organizing something like this makes it much more likely that they will take you seriously because we have already won some of the things we’ve asked for. “