Editor Note: This is the press release from last week’s picket. A video of the picket can be seen at the end of this post.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Almost two months after 5 employees at Chicago-Lake Liquors were fired for presenting a petition to management asking for higher wages, the National Labor Relations Board indicated yesterday that it found merit in the charges that the firings were a violation of federal labor law, as well as two other charges against the employer relating to ongoing organizing. The fired workers are now calling for Chicago-Lake’s owner, John Wolf, to respect the law and rehire them. The workers and their supporters will picket outside the store at 7:30PM on Friday, May 24th, asking customers to shop elsewhere for the evening in solidarity with the campaign for higher wages and union rights.
The workers were fired the first week of April 2013, days after a majority of Chicago-Lake employees signed a petition asking management to raise the starting wage from $8 to $9 an hour, give a $1 raise to all workers in the store, and increase the wage cap from $10.50 to $13 an hour. The firings were a clear case of retaliation for organizing activities and an attempt to intimidate other workers in the store. Since then, the fired workers have announced their union membership and have remained a visible presence outside Chicago-Lake, handing out fliers to customers and picketing the store on several occasions with community support.
The Labor Board’s decision comes as a victory for the fired workers, but they note that it does not mean they will be walking into work tomorrow. “We are thrilled that the Labor Board found merit with our charges,” said fired worker Joe Giwoyna, “but we also know that the legal system can take a long time to turn that determination into action. We’re calling on Mr. Wolf to settle with us and get us back on the job, but we also are not going to forget why he fired us in the first place: because we believe that our coworkers should be able to live decent lives and deserve a raise.” He added that the workers will continue to bring attention to the situation until they get their jobs back. The union has vowed that it will mobilize the community for a boycott of the store on July 4th, an important sales day for the store, if the fired workers have not returned by then.
Chicago-Lake is one of the highest volume liquor stores in the state and is estimated to make millions of dollars a year for Mr. Wolf, who relies on his workers to deal with the high intensity environment of an incredibly busy store in a low-income neighborhood. “The reality is that the working class people who shop at Chicago-Lake make John Wolf rich, and he disrespected that community by firing some of the very people who keep him so wealthy just for asking for a slight wage increase,” pointed out fired worker Arella Vargas, “It’s insulting and now it’s time for John to do the right thing. If we’re not at work by July 4th, he’ll see exactly how the working class in Minneapolis can stand together.”
The campaign at Chicago-Lake Liquors represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy John’s workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.