Eleven employees of a Domino's Pizza unit in Pensacola, Fla., have formed the first delivery driver union in the United States.
The 11-4 vote, cast in April, created the first chapter of the American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers, and driver Jim Pohle became its president, as well as president of AUPDD.
Pohle, who has worked for multiple Domino's operations for nearly 20 years, started the union in hopes of improving compensation and working conditions for the nation's pizza drivers. He said the cost of living has risen steadily beyond driver earnings and that the sharp increase in crimes against delivery drivers isn't gaining serious acknowledgement from pizza shop owners. Both concerns led him to organize a union drive, form AUPDD and conduct the election in 29 days.
"I never wanted to be a union president. I'm a pizza guy who's been thrust into this because of the way this industry has changed for drivers," said Pohle. "But I'm willing to step up to the challenge. If I just quit and don't do anything, then the next guy gets treated the same way and the industry continues to deal with 300-percent turnover."
Pohle said he's not out to get Domino's or anyone who works for
them. He delivers pizza because he loves the job and it's his preferred way of earning a living.
"I really love Domino's; I idolize Tom Monaghan, so I don't want to hurt the company," he said. "If people don't order pizza because of a controversy, then the very people I'm trying to help, I'd hurt. That makes no sense."
Pohle's determination to start a union was triggered by a sign on the window of a Papa John's unit across the street from the Domino's where he works. The store sought drivers by offering Florida's minimum wage standard, $6.40 per hour, as base pay. Pohle, who is paid $6.15 plus tips and auto compensation, asked his shop manager about a commensurate raise, but he was denied. (* Editor's note: It was originally reported Pohle was making $5.15 an hour, which was incorrect.)
"I got fed up and said to a friend, 'That's it. I'm forming union,'" Pohle said. "My friend said, 'I'm with you,' but I told him I didn't really mean it. But he did, and that was it. We went forward."
Jeff Mays, a seven-unit Domino's franchisee who operates the shop where Pohle works, declined to comment on the story.
"I probably shouldn't talk about the issue right now, but I'll ask my lawyer if he'd like to talk to you," Mays said. His lawyer did not comment on the story.
Tim McIntyre, vice president of corporate communication for Domino's in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the chain has no authority over how Mays supervises his employees and thus has no influence on its dealings with the union.
"We have a say on issues such as how trademarks are used, how product specifications are handled, management of all the things we own, but as a private business owner, Jeff is responsible for hiring and firing and managing his people," McIntyre said. "Forming a union means Mr. Pohle is responsible for representing the employees at that store. And those matters are between the union and the franchisee."
The AUPDD is the second group of pizza drivers aiming to unionizing their ranks nationally. The Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers (APDD) was formed a few years ago, but its attempts to unionize a handful of pizza shops have failed.
In the five months since the formation of AUPDD, relations between the Domino's store management and union drivers have deteriorated Pohle said. A five-year employee of Mays', Pohle claimed his boss won't negotiate with the union despite the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) recognition of AUPDD. (Calls to the NLRB to discuss the process of how the union was recognized were not
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Pohle said driver schedules no longer include ending times for shifts and that drivers now have to deliver to areas formerly deemed unsafe by Mays. Other major pizza competitors, Pohle added, don't service those areas.
He also claimed that after the union was formed, drivers at Mays' six other Domino's shops had their hourly pay raised to $6.40. As a union shop, AUPDD members now have to negotiate a pay raise as a group, but Pohle said Mays won't meet them at the bargaining table. (* Editor's note: PizzaMarketplace has learned Mays' lawyer and a supervisor from the unioninzed Domino's store have met with AUPDD representatives for limited negotiations.)
"By forming the union, we earned the right to negotiate with him in a collective bargaining agreement," Pohle said. "He now has to negotiate, in good faith, a contract with us, but he won't."
Driven to change
In two decades on the job, Pohle has been robbed at knifepoint twice, at gunpoint once and couldn't walk for a year-and-a-half following an on-the-job crash with a driver who ran a red light. Yet he still loves delivering pizza, and plans to do so for the foreseeable future.
"I just love the job. It's one I can do and make a decent living at," Pohle said. "But I make less statistically than I did years ago, and earning what I do, I cannot get affordable health insurance."
Tim Lockwood, a former APDD officer who delivers pizzas in Tennessee as an independent contractor, said Pohle's quick success unionizing a shop was surprisingly fast but bound to happen. The need to improve driver working conditions is higher than ever, he said, and many drivers are at the breaking point.
Pohle agreed, saying his colleagues don't want to quit, they just want better treatment.
"I'm not out to get anybody or make them mad, but I believe people need to know the crap going on is so wrong," he said. "And being an old Marine infantryman, I'll not give up on this. As long as there's one more person out there fighting to fix the situation, I'll be with them."