Freshii Workers’ Union members and supporters staged a picket today to demand an end to abuses by Freshii franchise owner Peter Irie.
The assembled group demanded that Irie re-hire illegally fired workers, cease union-busting tactics and attacks on union supporters, and officially recognize the Freshii Workers’ Union (FWU).
“Peter thinks that he can continue to abuse and disrespect his workers with no repercussions,” former Freshii employee Heather Sprigler said.
With Sprigler’s help, the FWU recently won back nearly $2,000 in unpaid back wages for store employees. Sprigler was subsequently fired for concerted activity. Irie officially cited Sprigler’s role in the campaign to recover unpaid wages as a reason for her termination.
The campaign included a march on the boss on August 1. Freshii workers delivered a letter to Irie that demanded that he end wage theft practices and deliver unpaid wages to the workers in full by August 8.
Sprigler was not the first Freshii employee fired after participating in union organization. Marcos Patino was fired after taking part in the march. Irie claimed that the store did not have enough business to keep Patino on staff, but Irie immediately advertised job openings after firing Patino from the store.
After Patino’s firing, the FWU organized a phone zap for August 5. Phone zaps involve supporters repeatedly calling and sending fax messages.
“The phone zap was extremely inspiring,” one Freshii worker and FWU organizer said. “We started receiving faxes around 5am, and they were messages of solidarity from all around the world.
“Phones never stopped ringing as long as I was in the store. We felt an overwhelming support both for Marcos and for our desire for union recognition,” they continued.
That evening, Irie called Patino to set up a meeting to discuss his re-hiring. Irie later cancelled the meeting and allegedly refused to re-schedule.
Since Sprigler and Patino’s firings, other Freshii workers have expressed concern about Irie’s actions towards store employees. Employee and union organizer Alison Olhava recently had her scheduled work hours reduced from 35 to 8 per week after taking an authorized week off of work due to contagious illness.
Irie has allegedly refused to meet with Alison and her union representatives to discuss this change in scheduling.
The FWU has filed a number of Unfair Labor Practice charges against Irie’s company, Nutritionality, Inc., which are currently being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board.
Union members and supporters stressed the importance of other direct actions while they await the NLRB’s official decisions.
“I’ve talked to other workers who were afraid that Peter might lash out against them,” union organizer Kai Tross said. “I think that a picket is important to show other workers that they are not alone — there are people all over who will come out and have their back.”
Tross has never worked at Freshii, but is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Freshii Workers’ Union is organized under the IWW, an international member-run union for workers in all industries.
The picketers organized outside of Irie’s 200 W. Randolph St. store at 11 a.m. today, and used the hashtag #FightFreshii to live blog the event on social media networks. Organizers were optimistic about continuing their campaign after today’s event.
“We might just be a small group of workers at a franchise, but the fact that we can come together and win back wages has shown me that a few people can do amazing things when they stand up together to fight,” Olhava said.
Updates on the Freshii Workers’ Union campaign are posted to their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FreshiiUnion640.