Naked City

Wobblies & Fresh Plus at War

On Jan. 12, the Austin branch of the Industrial Workers of the World filed federal charges with the National Labor Relations Board against local grocery chain Fresh Plus, citing unlawful termination due to sympathy with, support for, or activities on behalf of, a labor organization. (Fresh Plus attorney Ted Smith says it is against company policy to comment on pending legal action.) Ryan Hastings, a 28-year-old former Fresh Plus employee, claims that store manager Paul Beurskens fired him due to his unionizing efforts within the store, which began shortly after he was hired. "I started working on June 27, 2004, and worked for several months without incident," Hastings recalls. "Then, on December 6, out of nowhere, I was called into the boss' office." There, says Hastings, Beurskens "began throwing accusations about the little things [Hastings] had done wrong," finally "writing him up" for taking "personal time on company time." Sure that the hassling was a direct result of his efforts to organize his fellow workers, Hastings says he called a meeting to warn them of what he felt was his impending termination. Sure enough, on Dec. 31, he was fired for, he says, taking a 15-minute break – strike two after the previous write-up and therefore grounds for dismissal.

Since then, Hastings and fellow IWW members have held numerous leafletings outside of the Clarksville Fresh Plus, the branch from which Hastings was fired. (On Jan. 25, the IWW filed another charge on behalf of Nellie Moore, another Fresh Plus employee and union sympathizer, also citing unlawful dismissal.) Last Sunday, in a freezing rain, a group of about 11 people gathered in yet another attempt to raise awareness of the situation and to demand the rehiring of both employees, with back pay. "I want my job back to show other workers that, actually, you can win the fight," Hastings says, hopefully. "Getting that kind of victory would show people that organizing from within is possible." Hastings has the full support of his union behind him.

"This is an illegal firing, as far as we're concerned," says local IWW Branch Secretary Dan Elgin. "Getting fired is the death penalty for a worker, and [in this instance] a gross violation of the law. We want workers to know that we're around, and that we're here to support them."

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Industrial Workers of the World, National Labor Relations Board, Fresh Plus, Ryan Hastings, Paul Beurskens, Dan Elgin

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