Nine former employees of a Jollibee branch in New Jersey organized a protest against the fast food restaurant’s alleged illegal firings after they advocated for higher wages.
#Justice4JollibeeWorkers: The ex-employees launched the #Justice4JollibeeWorkers campaign to fight for the rights of Jollibee workers on July 6, which is National Fried Chicken Day in the U.S.
With a crowd of more than 50 supporters, the group marched into Jollibee’s branch at Journal Square in Jersey City to demand reinstatement, back pay and a public apology from the Jollibee Food Corporation (JFC).
“We do our jobs right, and we received this — getting laid off because we want a better workplace, holiday pay, and a $3 wage increase to support ourselves and our families,” former employee Keyser Garganera told Asian Journal.
Along with the support of community group Pilipinos Organizing for Worker Empowerment and Rights, the ex-employees demanded a wage increase from $14 to $17 an hour. Vincent Cruz, a 19-year-old former fry cook, also encouraged his former colleagues “to be brave and take action.” Cruz claimed that the Jollibee branch hired 13 new employees two weeks after firing him and eight other workers.
Alleged unfair labor practices: In July, the ex-employees filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing the restaurant of unfair labor practices and unlawful termination on Feb. 20 as retaliation for organizing efforts.
“Hopefully, the NLRB will be sympathetic. To us it’s a very slam-dunk case – it’s obvious that Jollibee violated labor rights,” Jackie Mariano, a lawyer with the advocacy group Mission to End Modern Slavery, told Al Jazeera.
Mariano said Jollibee practices misclassification, where workers hold part-time status despite working close to full-time shifts. According to Mariano, the practice allows the company to avoid granting benefits to staff, including full-time wages and paid leave.
“It’s Jollibee’s motive to maintain high profits by cutting labor costs,” Mariano added. “That’s where they got all that capital, from unpaid benefits. It also relies on the labor export program of the Philippines with 4 million Filipinos in the U.S. comprising the company’s market base.”
Jollibee’s response: Jollibee North America refuted the former employees’ claims, saying that the Journal Square branch had terminated the workers due to financial issues.
“The Jollibee Journal Square store in the US implemented a workforce reduction that unfortunately affected nine store crew members who were selected on a last-in first-out basis of hiring,” Jollibee said in a statement to CNN. “The action was due to financial circumstances specific to this store and not related to other claims being circulated online.”
New Jersey law: Under New Jersey law, all employment is considered “at-will,” meaning an employer can terminate an employee at any time without cause. However, workers are still protected from “at-will” termination if the reason is based on discrimination or for retaliatory purposes.
Jollibee has long been accused of depriving employees of job security and benefits, according to Al Jazeera. In the Philippines, JFC topped the list of companies with the most contractual employees in 2018. The #Justice4JollibeeWorkers campaign members, who are waiting on the outcome of NLRB’s investigation, claim that there have been several cases of mistreatment, misclassification, casualization and chronic understaffing in Jollibee branches all over the world.