New Orleans In a way we started this, because ACORN put the initiative on the ballot with our allies and raised the minimum wage in Florida, the lowest wage that can be paid in that state is now $6.40 per hour. So when a Domino’s Pizza operation in Pensacola tried to get around paying the minimum by declaring the drivers “tipped” employees, so that they could offset the wage, Jim Pohle, a leader of the drivers did what all upstanding members of the oppressed working class do now.
He went on the internet!
In the old days he might have called a union and asked how to move forward. He might have called the nearest office of the central labor council with the AFL-CIO or he might have called the biggest union in the area or he might have though, “hey, I’m a driver, I’ll call the drivers unions,” and then called the Teamsters. In these days and times though he did what is natural for workers. He searched the internet to see if there other pizza drivers or pizza workers who had organized a union.
He found a labor lawyer in St. Louis who had advised pizza workers with beefs in Ohio, Missouri, and Michigan. The lawyer, Mark Potashnick, walked our hero through the process and he filed for an election in Region 15 of the NLRB, coincidentally headquartered in New Orleans across from the Superdome, and they won a union. I enjoyed seeing the NLRB’s Regional Director, Rodney Johnson, in the paper saying this was the first such union in the country to the best of his knowledge. Rodney was the first case agent who ever handled an unfair labor practice for me in the early 80’s. I did not enjoy seeing that the lawyer for the company, a local franchisee, is Keith Pyburn, a well known management side (read union busting!) lawyer, who I have sat across the table from on many an election and bargaining session. The best I will say about Keith is that he is not so ideological that he will not do what the owner wants, but in this case I will bet money the owner simply does not want a contract. In fact the franchise holder seems to have already raised driver wages in the six other Domino’s pizza places they own.
The mighty United Labor Unions, the independent predecessor union before we merged all of our locals into the Service Employees in 1984 used to have the distinction in Local 222 (triple deuce!) of having the only fast food workers contract in the country when we finally — thanks to the brilliant organizing of the youthful Danny Cantor (now with the Working Families Party of New York) and Keith Kelleher (now head organizer and driving force in what has become the 70,000 member SEIU 880 in Chicago) — won an agreement at the Burger King that was then located in the old Greyhound Bus Terminal in downtown Detroit.
The Pensacola pizza drivers might get lucky. I hope so! Fast food workers might start thinking that enough is enough. Wouldn’t that be great? All of those hopes and dreams are unlikely though until the labor movement — under whatever federation or leadership — realizes that there are millions of unorganized workers just like Jim Pohle and his posse — who would organize if a union made a home for them again.