Photo courtesy of Patrick Nevada / Justice For Jollibee Workers.
On Thursday, a young Filipino woman stood in front of Journal Square’s Jollibee store with two crowds surrounding her – one to her left and another on her right. She exclaimed how tired and overworked the store’s workers are and alleged that they’re being taken advantage of.
Together, they demanded justice for Jollibee workers.
The “Justice for Jollibee Workers” campaign is accusing the Journal Square branch of illegally terminating nine workers after they reportedly organized to request better wages and benefits. Keyser A. Garganera, a former worker, told Slice of Culture that without its workers, there is no Jollibee.
“Even though Jollibee is becoming ‘well-known’ because Jollibee is like a part of Filipino culture, without workers there’s no chickenjoy to serve!” Garganera said.
“Remember that, Jollibee.”
Late last year, workers at the 9 Path Plaza Level location began to organize on how to ask for a raise and address other issues in the workplace, Garganera said. In January, they gathered signatures and, after a couple of weeks, more than 90% of their co-workers signed.
However, sometime in mid-February, management somehow became aware of their plans and started “surveilling” them, according to a flyer handed out at the rally.
On Feb. 18 and Feb. 20, management reportedly told them that the store had been losing money for the last two years and had to lay off workers to budget expenses; they laid off the workers who were there for six months or less, the flyer added.
“One of my co-workers said that we should stand up and fight for our rights and gave us a little info about our workers’ rights. He told us that what Jollibee did to us was illegal. Without my co-workers, maybe I would’ve just walked away and moved on,” Garganera said.
Thursday, July 6, was National Fried Chicken Day, which is one of the busiest days of the year for Jollibee workers. The workers had reconvened at the Jersey City store to deliver a letter to management, which demanded “reinstatement, backpay, a public apology from Jollibee Food Corporation and to post NLRA Sec.7 and 8a posters in all stores,” but they were “forcibly” removed from the restaurant by police, a press release said.
“Interfering with employee rights (Section 7 & 8(a)(1)) Employees have the right to unionize, to join together to advance their interests as employees, and to refrain from such activity. It is unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights.”
Prior to Thursday, the Jollibee workers filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board for “unfair labor practices,” specifically the Feb. 20 incident.
“I trusted that a big company like Jollibee who… is loved and supported and seen as a representation of… back home to many Filipinos would be a place that value workers and their rights,” Mary Taino, a former Jollibee worker, said in a statement.
“Jollibee keeps on getting bigger and richer but at the expense of workers. They need to stop with their lies and give dignity to workers’ rights towards equal pay across location.”
Garganera told Slice of Culture that there is one connection between U.S. and Philippines Jollibee workers: “Their fight is also our fight.”
Dating back to 2018, Jollibee workers from outside the U.S. have reported labor issues including unfair wage, understaffing, mistreatment and more, which led some Filipinos to call for a boycott.
Despite this, the Jollibee Food Corporation is still expected to open 500 stores in North America in the next five to seven years. In 2022, the Filipino chain made $31 million in profit.
“I don’t know what they do, I don’t know much about the store,” Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, who represents Journal Square, told The Jersey Journal. “But if they really feel that they’re working hard and they’re not being paid, then continue. But if not, compromise and split the difference.”
In 2020, Jollibee moved to a bigger location in Journal Square, after previously being at 393 Danforth Avenue, which is now occupied by Chow King, another popular Filipino fast-food chain. In 2021, another branch was opened at 739 Route 440, marking its second spot in Jersey City.
Garganera said that other Jollibee branches were “fully supporting” them from inside their store, because some of them had to work during the time of the rally, but they were “really hyped up and happy.
Fast-food chain workers demanding better pay and benefits have become more common over the last few years including Starbucks and Amazon, who have formed unions to achieve their requests.
There are currently no plans to unionize at Jollibee, The Jersey Journal reported, but it would be a supported idea.
“I hope [our protest] will have a huge impact on society and give [workers at chain places] courage to speak for those who want to speak and overcome their fear,” Garganera said.
Neither Jollibee management nor its parent company, Jollibee Food Corps, have issued a statement.
An Instagram account called @justice4jollibeeworkers was created and has over 900 followers. Their first post, which called on holding Jollibee accountable for labor violations, has nearly 3,000 likes as of Sunday.
“To my fellow workers who have faced similar struggles, I urge you to speak and be brave to stand up and let your voice be heard,” Garganera added.
“I hope we will get the justice that we deserve. Mabuhay kapwa manggagawa! (Long live workers!)”