(Robert Chenoweth photo)
Dunkin’ Donuts employees and members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), staged a demonstration outside of a Dunkin’ Donuts bakery located in Elgin, IL on March 31. The protest was in response to franchise owner Akhtar Ramzanali’s refusal to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with them.
By David Weese
Workers for the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise Villa Park Combo, Inc., which operates 30 to 35 Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the area, as well as operating a bakery at 812 Chicago St. in Elgin, have taken a strike authorization vote after management has continued to ignore their demands for months.
On September 8 and 9 of 2009, workers took a vote to join the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Midwest United Local 2009 by a margin of 70 percent, but when they attempted to negotiate with franchise owner Akhtar Ramzanali, their efforts were rebuffed.
Shortly after they took the vote, the bargaining unit elected a bargaining team, which formulated a proposal to take to Ramzanali to get the union up and running at the franchise. “We asked the owner for dates [to begin negotiations], and since that time, he refuses to return phone calls, he ignores faxes, he ignores letters,” said Council Coordinator Christian Hainds of OPEIU Midwest United. Hainds said that on several occasions, union reps have gone to Ramzanali’s house to hand-deliver letters and petitions to him, but he has failed to respond to those as well.
So on March 31, franchise workers held a demonstration outside Ramzanali’s Elgin location, demanding that he listen to their request and allow them to unionize as they had voted to do. The workers also took the strike vote on Thursday, which passed by a margin of 88 percent with over half of workers voting. Some of the workers’ complaints against management include paychecks that bounce, first-aid kits that are often undersupplied and are usually locked up in managers’ offices where they are not accessible to employees when needed.
“One of the concerns [the workers] had come to us with when they initially called requesting to meet with our union to organize is that many times their paychecks would bounce. And their suspicion—and ours too—was that it was not due to a lack of money, it was due to his inability or unwillingness to transfer the money into the account on time,” Hainds said. “I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard that story, and that hasn’t changed since they took the vote to join the union in September.”
(Robert Chenoweth photo)
Christian Hainds, council coordinator and business agent for the OPEIU (left) and Mario Marin, OPEIU organizer (right), cheer on the demonstrators with a chant of “We are the Union; the mighty, mighty, Union. OPEIU!” outside of a Dunkin’ Donuts in Elgin on March 31.
Hainds says he has also seen documentation showing Villa Park Combo, Inc. has not paid out on Worker’s Compensation claims as the law requires. “We have documented at least one case where Worker’s Compensation hasn’t been paid out, and that’s to the tune of $800 or $900. … I’ve also heard about three or four other cases from workers who no longer work there,” he said.
“[They’ve been] asking the owner for safety equipment. He won’t get it,” Hainds said. “For example, last Monday there was a grease fire. Because of the smoke, the Fire Department had to be called out. There weren’t even properly working smoke detectors inside. So we understand they’ll be getting some citations from the Fire Department. These are the types of issues we hope to address in bargaining and we’re not going to go away until these things are addressed.”
Ramzanali had changed attorneys without notifying the union, and only when union reps caught him off guard last week attempting to hand-deliver another letter did he reveal the name and phone number of his new attorney. When Hainds’ office contacted Ramzanali’s new attorney by phone before the strike vote, he hung up on them.
“But when the owner learned that we were going to hold our event and take our strike vote, he instructed his attorney to call our office saying, ‘We would love for you to send over a proposal for bargaining dates,’” Hainds said.
Hainds said they were told that the company said they would not be ready to bargain until late April or early May, so the union sent them a list of proposed bargaining dates in the middle of last week, but have not heard back from Ramzanali or his attorney as of yet.
“That’s not the first letter like that I’ve sent out with a proposal for dates,” Hainds said, “but all the previous letters were ignored. So at this point, we still do not have dates for bargaining, but they do have another letter in their hands now.” He said he’s been sending similar letters since late October or early November.
“If they continue to ignore our requests, we will strike over this,” Hainds said. When asked if there had been any firm dates set for a strike action, Hainds said, “…The [bargaining] dates are for the last week of April or the first week of May, so while we haven’t set any firm deadlines, we’re basically looking at those dates. If they are unwilling to come to the table on one of those six dates in late April or early May, I can say pretty confidently that our bargaining unit out there would want to take action at that point.”
When asked what he though of last Thursday’s job action, Hainds said, “I thought it was a good demonstration. The workers there were incredibly pleased with it.” Hainds said. “I think we definitely got our message across, and we were very excited that our brothers and sisters from the Teamsters showed up as well.”
Teamsters Local 743 President Richard Berg spoke at the rally, and many other Teamsters members were there to show solidarity for the OPEIU workers. Two workers from the bakery also addressed the crowd.
“Unfortunately, cases like this are more common than most people think,” Hainds said. “In terms of low-wage workers being taken advantage of precisely because they are low-wage and/or have limited [English language skills], these workers definitely have a just and moral fight, and are willing to go all the way.”
“Situations like this are the reason we need the reform of our labor laws,” Hainds said. “Examples like this do nothing but prove that the Employee Free Choice Act is absolutely necessary.”
Attempts by the Fox Valley Labor News to contact Ramzanali were unsuccessful.
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