Federal regulators have found that a Twin Cities Jimmy John's franchisee -- the target of an unusual union-organizing drive -- violated workers' rights in ways that included firing several employees after a public protest over sick leave.

The National Labor Relations Board lodged a complaint recently against the franchisee, Miklin Enterprises, in response to unfair labor charges filed last spring by members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The union lost a bid to represent the workers by two votes -- 87-85 -- in October 2010.

The campaign at roughly 10 Jimmy John's was a rare attempt to organize fast-food workers, conducted by a union well outside of the mainstream labor movement, one known for its grass-roots militancy.

After the loss, IWW-affiliated workers continued to press for unionization and for changes to policies that led to the vote in the first place, including improved sick leave. In March, they put up posters near Jimmy John's outlets that indicated sick workers might be inside making sandwiches.

Six workers involved in the sick leave protest and other union activities were fired soon thereafter. The NLRB found that the poster protest was an organizing activity protected by federal labor law. The agency also found that Miklin violated other labor organizing rights.

"It's basically a complete legal victory for us," said Micah Buckley-Farlee, one of the fired workers. The IWW will propose a settlement with Miklin that would include reinstatement of the six workers with back pay, he said.

Mike Mulligan, an owner of Miklin, said the company will "vigorously defend" itself against allegations in the NLRB complaint. "We don't believe the union publicity campaign falsely implying that our customers are at risk of foodborne illness is protected activity [under federal labor law]."

Absent a settlement, the NLRB complaint will be heard by an administrative law judge. If the judge rules in the union's favor, reinstatement of the workers and back pay are potential remedies, said Marlin Osthus, the NLRB's regional director in Minneapolis.

In January, also in response to unfair labor charges filed by the IWW, the NLRB nullifed the October 2010 union vote, giving the union another shot at an election.

Buckley-Farley said that the IWW hasn't abandoned its organizing campaign, and that reinstatement of the fired workers would help the union's effort.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003