Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday February 3rd, 2014, 12:46pm

Fired Chicago Snarf's Workers Reach Settlement With Sandwich Shop Company

Fourteen former Chicago Snarf’s Sub Shop workers who were abruptly fired via email just days before Christmas from the River North location have reached a settlement with the Denver-based sandwich chain.

The fired employees, who were given pink slips on December 22, received a month's worth of back pay on Monday and have been guaranteed that they can have their jobs back once the River North restaurant reopens after a remodel. It is not known, however, how many of the 14 Snarf's employees will actually go back to work at the River North restaurant once it reopens.

The sandwich shop, located at 600 W. Chicago Ave., is being converted into one of Snarf's burger-concept chains, and it could reopen as early as mid-February, the former workers said. Snarf's officials say the change in the restaurant's model is in response to “increased competition and losses.”

The recent settlement follows multiple protests that the discharged Snarf's workers and their supporters, including the Worker’s Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), have held against the "unjust" firings.

"Our goal was to send a strong message that we're not going to tolerate this kind of treatment," said Kevin Brown, 25, one of the fired River North sandwich makers. "We know that we were fired in an unjust manner, and we want to make sure that we get justice out of the situation, and we think we did through the settlement."

Although the former workers called the settlement a "victory", they noted that their fight is not finished.

"We need to keep fighting for a living wage — $15 an hour —- for all the fast food and retail workers, but this is a start. We showed the power that we have when we organize together," Brown said, adding that he's not sure whether or not he will continuing working at Snarf's.

Lillian Henehan, 25, a former Snarf's River North assistant manager of more than two years, said the fired workers have helped to "change the narrative in this country."

"By doing this, and by making it known that this is a victory for us, we are letting every fast food worker know, we are letting every small business know, we are letting every big business know that there are new standards in this country, and there are new ways to be treated in this country," she said. "Ultimately we deserve more, and we got it."

The 14 Snarf’s employees were dismissed just weeks after many went on strike with other fast food and retail workers in Chicago during a national day of strikes to demand a wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. The employees had also been involved with other protests and strikes coordinated by WOCC as part of the Fight for 15 campaign for higher wages and better workplace conditions.

Prior to the firings, Brown said Snarf's officials indicated to employees that they were not happy with their organizing efforts, though workers never thought that they would actually be fired due to their actions. The company, however, maintains that the strikes did not play a role in the firings.

When asked whether the workers think they were let go in part because of their involvement with WOCC, Brown said, "We can't say for sure, but it seems suspicious."

"The fact that they fired us in the manner that they did without any notice ... whatever the reason is ... I don't think it justifies the reason they fired us," he added.

The Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago and one of the workers' advocates, lauded the employees for their strength in fighting for a fair and just agreement with the company.

"These are the future leaders of our city. These are our leaders who are going to help other workers get a living wage, to get $15 an hour," she said. "I commend them for their courage and perseverance and also for their tenacity. I congratulate them, and I am thrilled for them as are dozens of religious leaders across this city."

A representative from Snarf's could not be reached for comment.

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