Chicago Sandwich Shop Reinstates Workers It Fired Three Days Before Christmas

Courtesy of Nazly Damasio
Chicago eatery Snarf's Sub Shop used to be known for its prime rib sandwiches, but last December it became notorious for something else entirely. Just three days before Christmas, the shop fired all 20 of its employees without notice over email, before closing for a period of remodeling and re-concepting. But now, after national coverage, a protest campaign, and an outpouring of community support, the shop has agreed to reinstate the fired employees with one month's pay.

"We were all pretty shocked that it happened in the manner that it did," Kevin Brown, a former Snarf's sandwich maker, told AOL Jobs. Brown, who made $10 an hour preparing sandwiches and salads, worked at the shop for more than two years before receiving notice in December. He has been at the forefront of the ensuing campaign, and considers the shop's response a triumph. "This is a great victory for fast food workers. That we were able to get people a month's back pay I think is pretty significant," he said.

Fast-food community rallied
Snarf's response comes after an extended campaign denouncing the firings, in which Brown and his former co-workers protested at the restaurant's Chicago locations to demand reinstatement and furlough payment. They found support from other St. Louis fast-food workers, who held a demonstration of solidarity at Snarf's, and hundreds of Internet users who signed a MoveOn petition demanding back pay.

"Many of us had requested to take some time off during the holidays to be with our families, but were told we could not because we were scheduled to work," Brown wrote. "In the end, we were not able to spend time with our families, and left without a job!"

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In response, Snarf's CEO Jim Seidel posted an apology on the company's Facebook page. "By explanation, rather than excuse, business was suffering and we felt the need to act quickly to begin efforts to re-concept the store," he wrote. "We recognize now we acted rashly."

Symbolic of bigger problems
Brown sees the situation at Snarf's as emblematic of larger problems with the fast-food industry, which grosses $200 billion a year, yet leaves many of its service workers hovering around minimum wage (in the Chicago metro area there are 275,000 low wage fast-food and retail workers). Last year hundreds of Chicago fast-food workers staged a one-day walkout to fight low wages, while a New York protest turned out to be the largest strike ever of fast-food workers. "You still have a lot of power to stand up to these companies," Brown said. "If you put a lot of public pressure on them, you can still hold them accountable."

Even so, Brown is undecided as to whether he'll take up Snarf's offer of reinstatement. "It's hard, after being treated like that, to go back," he told AOL Jobs.

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