Friday January 4, Burger King held a disciplinary meeting against Dunedin employee Julie Tyler. Her alleged misconduct was the posting of the following sentence on a friend’s Facebook wall, ‘Real jobs don’t underpay and overwork like BK does’. Julie’s union, Unite, her friends, and other workers successfully built up public opposition against BK before the initial disciplinary meeting took place.
At the initial meeting Burger King adjourned the case until today, saying they were seeking further legal advice. During the adjournment BK’s censorship of staff members became a national media issue. BK New Zealand’s own Facebook page was jammed by comments of protest. Other Facebook groups - which attracted heavy traffic - were created and used in Julie’s defence. An informational picket was put on at Julie’s store today during the second disciplinary meeting. As a result the company has threatened legal action against Unite Union but Unite has replied that it will not be silenced.
The case not only raises issues surrounding the use of social media, it has also drawn attention to very basic working class issues such as freedom of expression and the right of workers to take action. Later on today we had the opportunity to have a quick word with Julie about how the case has unfolded so far:
The Spark: Your original comment on Facebook mentioned being overworked and underpaid. It describes the way a lot of people feel. Do you remember when or where you first heard that turn of phrase?
JT: I kinda just put two other work mates comments together and voiced my own feelings about the situation! The phrase is mine!
The Spark: Freedom of speech within social forums is a growing issue, especially with regard to employment matters. How does it feel to be at the centre of the issue?
JT: I have mixed feelings about it all, I would say it’s very overwhelming.
The Spark: Have you found there has been more public sympathy or more public opposition to your case? Who’s getting behind you?
JT: I have a ton of support and it’s been amazing, most supportive are those who work in the fast food industry and therefore know the pressures that we face everyday. And Unite, I couldn’t have done this without their support!
The Spark: In general, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about employment, management, unions, workers rights etc?
JT: That’s a hard question, um, maybe that we (employees) are entitled to more than what we think, or are lead to believe.
The Spark: What happened at today’s disciplinary meeting?
JT: I received a final written warning.
The Spark: Unite union says that the final written warning is unjustified. Are you prepared to challenge it?
JT: Yes I can confirm that the union and I have agreed to pursue this and get the warning lifted.
(The union will also be going into negotiations with Burger King later this year as part of the Campaign for a Living Wage).