LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has concluded a preliminary investigation into the questionable firing of a delivery driver at a Domino's Pizza
store in Louisville.
In October, the American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers (AUPDD) filed a charge with the NLRB over the alleged wrongful dismissal of delivery driver Jim Sullivan, 36. The group said Sullivan was sacked for talking to other drivers about a reduction in the store's per-run fuel reimbursement rate and for attempting to form a delivery drivers union at the shop.
According to a Domino's spokesman, Sullivan was fired for repeatedly clocking in late for work, not for discussing reimbursements or unionization. Sullivan flatly denies the allegation.
Throughout November, the NLRB gathered affidavits from employees of the store, which resulted in the Nov. 28 return of an amended charge to Central Missouri Pizza Inc., (CMPI) the operator of the Louisville store. The document includes several additional charges that an NLRB spokesman said concerned investigators.
"Based on all the evidence presented, we have determined to issue an
Former Domino's Pizza driver Jim Sullivan talked to a Louisville TV station during a Nov. 25 protest in front of the Domino's from which he was fired. Photo by Steve Coomes
official complaint in which we would be prepared to litigate the issue of whether (Sullivan) was unlawfully discharged," said Earl Ledford, attorney for the NLRB's ninth region. An official "complaint should issue probably within the next three or four days, and if it goes to a trial, the actual hearing would be a couple months out."
Ledford said CMPI can settle the matter before the complaint is filed or before the matter goes to trial. Nearly 80 percent of such cases settle before litigation, he added.
Sullivan began working for Domino's during the summer, when the reimbursement rate was 90 cents per run. He said none of the staff's eight drivers were told in advance that the rate was being reduced by a dime. When he noticed the change, he took the matter to store manager Will Harding, who said the rate was lowered because gas prices had gone down.
When Harding learned Sullivan was discussing the matter with other drivers, he ordered the driver to stop.
"Will Harding told me that if I discussed the dime one more time, he was going to have to let me go," Sullivan said Nov. 25, during a protest in front of the store from which he was fired. "I told him that according to federal law, you can't fire anyone for discussing wages, and you can't fire anyone for trying to organize a union. He said that Kentucky is a right to hire, right to fire state, and that federal law didn't matter."
Tim McIntyre, vice president of corporate communications for Domino's Pizza, said Sullivan's view of the fuel reimbursement as a wage is incorrect. The reimbursement's sliding scale is designed to reduce the burden of high gas prices, not profit drivers.
"As gas prices went up, so did the reimbursement. But when gas prices fell 49 cents and stayed there, the franchisee only slid the scale down a dime," McIntyre said.
Calls to CMPI and its lawyer were not returned.
While still a Domino's employee, Sullivan contacted AUPDD about unionizing the shop. He said AUPPD supplied him with a petition drivers could sign to gain the right to hold a legal vote to unionize the shop. According to Jim Pohle, president of AUPDD, five of the eight drivers signed the petition, clearing the way for a Dec. 1 election.
That action, Sullivan believes, was the real reason he was fired, but McIntyre disputed the claim.
"Jim Sullivan was terminated by the franchisee for showing up late three consecutive times without calling in," he said. When asked if the franchisee had documented the alleged late arrivals with write-ups, McIntyre said he did not know. He said the chain's corporate stores document all employee warnings and reprimands, but franchisees set their own policies.
Sullivan said the franchisee has no proof to back the allegation.
"I was never given a verbal or written warning for any of that, nothing," he said. "In fact, I came in early whenever they called me."
A closer examination
The initial charge filed by AUPDD
Jim Pohle, a Domino's Pizza driver and the president of the American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers, participated in the Nov. 25 protest in Louisville.
Photo by Steve Coomes
with the NLRB accused the Domino's store management of engaging in unfair labor practices by firing Sullivan for discussing the reimbursement reduction, and for his efforts to form a union.
The amended charge from the NLRB included five additional charges born both of new information uncovered during its investigation and what Ledford called the agency's need to be "very specific." He said preliminary charges such as that submitted by AUPDD often are too broad and require detailed substantiation to be deemed acceptable for litigation. It's not unusual, he added, for investigators to find additional and new evidence for more charges in the process.
"(Investigators) will try to get into the charge everything that has sufficient evidence to warrant a complaint" and move the case forward, he said.
The five additional charges include:
* Store management created the impression among store employees that their union activities were under surveillance.
* Store management threatened to fire Sullivan if he continued to "concertedly complain about wages."
* Store management unlawfully interrogated an employee about his union activities, prohibited an employee from speaking about the union at work and prohibited employees from speaking with Sullivan.
* Store management threatened employees "with onerous working conditions" if the union was selected as their collective bargaining representative.
* Store management has interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the free exercise of rights guaranteed by federal statutes.
Ledford said the added charges don't necessarily mean a violation occurred, only that there's enough evidence of a violation to warrant a complaint and potential litigation.
Pohle, AUPDD's president, said he's "personally very happy that the federal government found merit to this charge," and added that the union vote at the Louisville store is expected to take place as scheduled Dec. 1.
Pohle led the formation of AUPDD when, in April, he helped unionize a Pensacola, Fla., Domino's store where he has worked for five years. His drive to unionize, he said, centered on better wages and increased driver safety.
Pohle has worked for Domino's for nearly two decades and said his case and Sullivan's prove the company is not as kind to its employees as it once was.
"I'm shocked that a company that claims on its Web site that its number-one and number-two values are, 'We demand integrity,' and 'Our people come first,'" he said. "They do not appear to be acting in a manner that demands integrity when they put their people in the unemployment line."