By Julia Carrie Wong
SEPTEMBER 3, 2014 — The national campaign to raise standards for fast food workers will escalate tomorrow, September 4, with workers across the country planning to go on strike and engage in civil disobedience actions in more than 150 cities.
In Oakland, the escalation in tactics follows closely on the heels of the firings of two Jack in the Box workers, allegedly in retaliation for signing union cards. The campaign, which kicked off in November 2012 in New York City, seeks a $15 an hour wage and the right to form a union for fast food workers. In Oakland, organizers expect more than 100 workers from about 80 fast food restaurants in Alameda County to take part in the strike and demonstrations.
While the national fast food campaign has focused on the largest US franchisers – McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands – three Jack in the Box locations in Oakland have become a focal point of Bay Area organizing. According to Fabiana Ochoa, an organizer for the campaign, Jack in the Box Inc. took over the management of the three Oakland restaurants from franchisees last fall. Ochoa says that one of the first steps the new corporate management took was to post a notice, in Spanish, that about 60 workers with Latino-sounding last names would be required to bring their citizenship or visa documentation to work the next day. When the workers, who were likely undocumented, did not go to work the next day or failed to produce papers, they were all fired.
David Bacon reported on those firings – and the phenomenon of using E-Verify for “silent raids” — last fall for Truth Out. He wrote, “By asking for papers and firing those who can’t come up with good ones, the restaurants imagine they’ll restore the previous willingness of workers to accept the minimum, no questions asked.”
According to Ochoa, the mass firings made further organizing very difficult in the Jack in the Box locations, but last Wednesday, a breakthrough occurred. Ochoa says that two workers, Bernicia Johnson and Teesa Ortiz, spoke to an organizer about the campaign for $15 per hour and a union, and decided to sign union cards. On Thursday, Ochoa says, “The workers went in for their next shift and the manager said, ‘Here’s your final check.’”
The firings were first reported by Darwin BondGraham, a journalist who attended a hastily-planned action on Friday in which community supporters went to the Jack in the Box with Ortiz and Johnson to demand their reinstatement. BondGraham photographed the letter delivered to Jack in the Box management, which states, in part: “It is clear that Jack in the Box terminated these workers because they signed union cards with WWOC [The Western Workers Organizing Committee]. Please be advised that, unless you immediately reinstate these fired workers within 24 hours and make them whole for their losses, WWOC’s attorneys will proceed with filing unfair labor practice charges against this store with the National Labor Relations Board.”
According to Ochoa, the campaign plans to file the NLRB charges today.
Brian Luscomb, a spokesperson for Jack in the Box corporate communications, responded to a query about the firings, stating: “We were not aware of any employees signing union cards, so that couldn’t be the basis for termination. The NLRB recently found us innocent in a similar case, and we would expect the same result if we are forced to defend ourselves against untrue claims.” He said the company would not comment on the specific reasons for the firings.
Retaliation against workers for organizing is just one of the issues fast food strikers will be raising Thursday. For Rhonesha Victor, 24, a worker at the KFC/Taco Bell at 61st and Telegraph, Thursday will be her fourth experience going on a one-day strike. Victor says one of her biggest concerns is seeing her hours get reduced – as well as “being treated like crap by management.”
“The right to unionize is really important,” says Victor. “We could get $15 per hour but the boss could only give you two days a week.”
Victor has worked at the KFC/Taco Bell for about two years, but she continues to look for other jobs and is studying photography at Laney College. “Growing up, I always told myself I would never work fast food because it’s the bottom of the totem pole,” she says. “But times are tough.”
Still, Victor is excited to be part of the fast food worker movement and says she “can’t wait” for Thursday’s escalation. “I know I’m doing this for a good cause. It reminds me of the Civil Rights Movement when they did the sit-ins at the diners,” she says. “There’s a small number of people who really care and are willing to do something to change things, and I’m proud to say I’m one of them.”
Supporters can join the fast food strikers at two actions tomorrow. At 6:30 AM, the group will meet at 45th and Telegraph for a march to various fast food locations. At 11:00 AM, the group will meet at Frank Ogawa Plaza by City Hall for another march.