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Frustrations Over Pay Lead to Worker Protests at Freshii

Workers formed a union, coordinated "phone zaps" and picketing, and allege wage theft.


Workers at the 200 W Randolph St. location of Chicago-based Freshii, a health-oriented fast casual concept, have formed a union, citing missing wages among several other abusive management practices as the impetus. Over the summer, a series of grievances aimed at Freshii franchiser Peter Irie were arranged through the IWW (International Workers of the World) chapter Freshii Union 640, including a demand letter, on-site picketing, and a "phone zap," during which all phone and fax lines became cluttered with coordinated communication from activists.

"So far, the majority of our focus has been on empowering workers to stand up for themselves and on ending wage theft practices," says Alison Olhava, a delegate for the local union and current employee at the 200 W. Randolph location.

Claiming almost $2000 of lost wages along with an intimidating atmosphere in which workers suffered abbreviated schedules as retaliation for participating in the union, actions such as the phone zap and a picket line were held throughout August and September.  Twitter also emerged as a forum for the union's mission, with #fightfreshii the hashtag for those who wished to participate in the protests through social media. 

According to the union's Facebook page, the wages have been returned to the employees; however, Freshii management has allegedly undertaken measures to dismantle the union, prompting further coordination among the chapter's members. According to Olhava, future actions against Freshii are to be expected. Freshii representatives were unable to secure an official statement as of publication, so stay tuned for developments.

—Stephanie Sack