Jimmy John’s in Springfield: More Poverty, More Discrimination

Jimmy John’s has implemented one of the most oppressive employment policies in recent memory — a policy that symbolizes the eroding power of labor in the United States at-large, and a policy that may soon affect Springfield.

Huffington Post recently retrieved and released an employment contract from Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop that includes a “non-compete” clause, a clause that prohibits sandwich makers and delivery drivers from working for competing restaurants during — and two years after — employment with the franchise chain.

Jimmy John’s is one of the many service sector employers — Wittenberg included — that refuse to pay or contract a living wage. Indeed, a recent Economic Policy Institute study holds that 20 percent of fast-food employees live in poverty — mostly the result of a federal minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25, that has steadily eroded in terms or purchasing power over the last four decades. Many businesses like Jimmy John’s also typically employ low-level workers exclusively on a part-time basis in order to evade providing health-care and other benefits. Hence, employees are forced to work additional part-time jobs with equally flexible-yet-sporadic schedules to try to make ends meet. This often means working at a competing restaurant.

Thus, not only does Jimmy John’s pay a poverty wage, but it also radically restricts its employees’ abilities to supplement their sub-living incomes. The contract, in short, makes Jimmy John’s brand of poverty more severe.

The creation and perpetuation of poverty is certainly the worst facet of these employment practices, but, what is more, they also come at the expense of taxpayers. The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research reports that 52 percent of families of non-managerial fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public assistance programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid and/or the Earned Income Tax Credit. In fact, they constitute 73 percent of enrollments in major public assistance programs, combining to cost taxpayers $7 billion per year.

Therefore, as Jimmy John’s non-compete clause subjects employees to a deeper form of poverty, it intensifies their need for public assistance — a tab that taxpayers are forced to pay.

Though Jimmy John’s is a single franchise chain among millions of businesses, this is a microcosm of the waning power of labor at-large. In recent decades, wages for the median worker have stagnated. Union membership has rapidly declined amidst a plethora of “right-to-work” legislation, which radically curbs the ability of workers to organize and collectively bargain. And, further, the great rise in service sector employment has been unaccompanied by a mechanism to guard against regressive and exploitative employment practices. These trends are all most apparent in fast-food restaurants like Jimmy John’s.

And while these issues may seem abstract, they will soon become more pervasive for Springfield.

The Springfield News-Sun reports that the Springfield City Commission recently approved rezoning at 122 E. College Ave. — the former location of McMurray’s Pub — for the development of a Jimmy John’s franchise. The franchise will be owned by City Commissioner and owner of McMurray’s, Kevin O’Neil.

For Springfield, this means more sub-living wages and — if the non-compete contract is enforced — deeper, intensified poverty.

But Jimmy John’s employees in Springfield will not only have to stress over making ends meet; they will also have to worry about their sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2012, O’Neil — along with Commissioners Joyce Chilton and Dan Martin — voted against amending Springfield’s human rights code to include language protecting LGBTQA people from being fired or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Indeed, because of O’Neil’s vote, his Jimmy John’s will be able to discriminate against and fire LGBTQA people without repercussion.

Certainly, ethical market decisions aren’t the only — or even the most adequate — means to eradicate poverty and bigotry, but they’re a place to start. Thus, I implore all members of the Wittenberg community to refuse to patronize Jimmy John’s. Eating at the sandwich shop would be convenient for us, but this expediency would come directly at the expense of taxpayers, materially-poor folks and LGBTQA people.

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