- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Eleven Domino’s employees hoping to make a little more dough and get a bigger slice of the profits have formed the nation’s first union of pizza delivery drivers.

The American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers won recognition from the National Labor Relations Board over the summer as the bargaining agent for drivers at a Pensacola franchise.

The union organizing drive was started by Jim Pohle, 37, a Domino’s driver who said he delivers pizzas because he likes to sleep late, smoke on the job and listen to the radio.

“When they declared us tipped employees and refused to pay us the Florida minimum wage of $6.40, I was kind of angry. I came home that night and I told my buddy, I said. ‘We are forming a union,’” he said.

He said he got on the Internet and found St. Louis labor lawyer Mark Potashnick.

Mr. Potashnick worked on failed organizing efforts by pizza workers in Ohio, Michigan and St. Louis, including those of the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers, an earlier, failed attempt to unionize delivery drivers in Ohio and Nebraska. He coached Mr. Pohle on submitting a petition to the NLRB.

Rodney Johnson, a regional director for the board, said the case appears to be the first of its kind. He has a petition pending from Pensacola-area pizza makers wanting to join Mr. Pohle’s union.

Mr. Potashnick said he isn’t aware of any immediate plans for a union chapter in the Washington area. But he said the union does intend to grow nationally.

“It’s not really an issue of just wages, but it’s also things like stabilizing the turnover in the industry and protecting the drivers,” he said. “It’s many different issues and I think a lot of them are fairly universal in the industry.”

Mr. Potashnick said the union has had discussions with larger unions about joining forces, but declined to say which organizations.

“We’re looking at this as a foot in the door,” he said.

Tim McIntyre, a spokesman for Domino’s Pizza Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich., said that while the Pensacola franchise was independently owned and operated, the company was disappointed by the union vote.

“We do not believe it is necessary in our industry, and are surprised that the individual employees in that store voted to turn over their ability to represent themselves to their supervisor to someone else,” he said.

One D.C. driver, Nat “the Cat” Robinson, a D.C. delivery driver for Papa John’s Pizza on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast, said he would sign a union contract on the spot if it were offered to him.

“I’ve been here 16 years making $6 an hour,” said Mr. Robinson, 76.

With his pay netting him around $530 every two weeks, he said he can hardly afford his nearly $1,000 rent, especially when spending almost $175 a week on gas as a delivery man.

“It’s ridiculous that you work year after year without getting a raise,” he said. “I’ve been in plenty of unions that looked up for their men.”

Even some managers agree that drivers should be concerned about their wages and job security.

“A lot of the drivers that work here, some of them, they don’t have homes. They just do this because they want to start a life,” said Joel Manzano, assistant manager for the Domino’s Pizza on Prospect Street in Georgetown.

“Why can’t they get a raise?” he said. “Drivers are like the only employees that don’t get minimum wage, because they make commission.”

However, some employees say decisions on raises often reflect employees themselves, not just a stingy management.

James Walker, a delivery driver for Domino’s on Minnesota Avenue Northeast, says going through a union undermines the job of the management team.

“They shouldn’t be the ones authorizing that. It’s up to the manager,” Mr. Walker said.

Mr. Pohle’s union and the franchise owner have not agreed on wages and working conditions. Apart from wages, many pizza delivery drivers nationally have discussed forming unions because they are often the victims of robbers.

In the meantime, the franchise owners have raised the pay of some drivers at their six nonunion stores, Mr. Pohle said.

Keith Pyburn, an attorney for the franchise owner, would not discuss employee pay, and said only that the company is meeting its legal obligation to bargain with the union.

The union could open doors for other fast-food workers, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

She pointed to recent organizing efforts by Starbucks employees in New York and Chicago. The Industrial Workers of the World has members at seven Starbucks Corp. stores.

Staff writers Sean Lengell and Jonathan Swigart contributed to this report from Washington.

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