No justice, no pizza!

March 5, 2013

DOMINO'S WORKERS staged a rally on February 27 outside a Domino's franchise in Manhattan to announce an important victory in their struggle for basic rights and fairness--one that could have far-reaching implications for all fast-food workers.

Chanting "no justice, no pizza," about 50 Domino's pizza workers, other delivery and food service workers as well as supporters picketed and rallied for workers' rights and fair treatment in front of a Domino's at Third Avenue and 32nd Street.

The rally was organized by the "Justice Will Be Served" campaign sponsored by the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, and 318 Restaurant Workers Union. It is part of a struggle for justice going back over two years.

According to a press release, for the first time, workers at a franchise are able to sue the parent corporation--in this case, Domino's Pizza Corp.--for alleged violations committed by franchisee Dave Melton.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2010 by six workers alleging Melton violated state and federal labor laws. More workers joined the next year, bringing the total to over 70 plaintiffs. Workers' grievances include allegations of paying workers less than minimum wage, requiring unpaid overtime, denying workers time for breaks and lunch, unsafe working conditions (including being forced to make deliveries on bicycle in severe rain and snow), as well as retaliation against workers for standing up against these offenses.

Domino's workers and their supporters picket in front of a franchise in Manhattan
Domino's workers and their supporters picket in front of a franchise in Manhattan (Gary Lapon | SW)

Former Domino's worker and plaintiff Carlos Rodriguez told the crowd that Melton and Domino's "make millions of dollars by forcing the workers to work under all kinds of horrible conditions whether there are storms [or] hurricanes."

Victor, another former Melton employee, spoke at the rally, saying, "We want to end this exploitation, and we call on the corporation to also take responsibility for the abuses we suffered as workers there. Many of us worked many hours doing deliveries and we were cheated out of 20 to 25 hours per week of our pay. We call on everyone to join us to end this exploitation."

Vincent Cao, a former worker at Saigon Grill who is part of another Justice Will Be Served campaign against similar conditions at his former employer, spoke as well. "I was fired because I spoke against unfair labor practices," Cao said. "We're here today to support the Domino's Pizza workers. We say enough sweatshop conditions! All the sweatshop owners, they use asset transfers, closing down, fake bankruptcy, to try to run away and avoid lawsuit. So we will fight to get justice."

In fact, Melton himself just recently filed for bankruptcy, claiming poverty due to legal fees related to the lawsuit. Workers called on Domino's and the franchise owner to "take responsibility, pay workers what they are owed, rehire those workers fired for speaking out and end their sweatshop conditions."

After a round of speakers, Carlos Rodriguez and others went into the Domino's location to hand a copy of the judge's decision to a manager. The manager refused to meet with Carlos and other workers, but when the latter refused to leave, he sent an employee to collect it.

THE ABILITY to include the Domino's corporation as a defendant in the lawsuit against Melton is an important victory, as major corporate chains like Domino's have in the past evaded accountability for violations of labor law committed by franchisees--who own their own restaurants, but pay a fee to the parent corporation to use the brand.

Domino's, which demands significant franchise fees and nearly 10 percent of sales after taxes, makes tens of millions from its franchises, and has seen a spike in profits in recent years. As Victor said, "The corporation, Domino's, knows what is going on in these stores, and tolerates this exploitation."

According to Forbes, Domino's corporate CEO J. Patrick Doyle took home over $6 million in total compensation in 2011. Yet the franchise system, where stores are owned by private "partners," enables chains like Domino's to plead innocence when it comes to dirty deeds done by franchisees. These workers are not only taking on a major corporation, but they are standing up to Dave Melton, a prominent Domino's franchisee.

Ironically Melton, who owns several Domino's restaurants in New York City and Connecticut, was celebrated in a 2008 New York Times story for how well he supposedly treats his employees and all of the opportunities available for them at his restaurants.

Melton even co-authored a book with a top Domino's executive entitled "Hiring the American Dream." On the promotional website, Melton claims that "my minimum-wage workers find their work fun and rewarding."

Melton said to the Times about his restaurants: "This is one of the places where so many people get their first experience in America," he said. "It is fun exposing them to the way capitalism and business in America works."

According to former Melton employees at the rally, this means subjecting them to an experience all too common for immigrant workers in the U.S.: ruthless exploitation made possible through intimidation.

THE JUSTICE Will Be Served campaign has called for a citywide rally on April 2 at the same Dave Melton's Domino's Pizza location at 464 Third Avenue and 32nd Street to keep the pressure on Melton and Domino's. The rally will demand that Domino's take responsibility, pay workers back for stolen wages, and rehire those fired for taking a stand. They are calling on workers from across the city to join the demand for justice.

Carlos Rodriguez said, "We're calling out to all Domino's workers from different franchises to join us so we can unite against this exploitation and...we are reaching out to all other workers including those of McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts and Wendy's to come together so we can end this exploitation."

"We're facing the same issue, and we should unite, no matter Latino, Chinese workers--we should come together," stated Vincent Cao of the Boycott Saigon Grill effort. "They use many different ways to divide the workers, documented/undocumented, Chinese versus Latino. They want workers to support the boss, not join a union."

Cao spoke about the importance of continuing with actions against Domino's and other sweatshop employers: "Picket lines are important. You have a base, an opportunity for other workers to join you, not just Domino's and Saigon Grill. Workers see there are so many workers there, and if they join there is a bigger chance to win."

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