Pizza Workers Looking for Unionization and Bigger Slice of Pie

Pizza Hut has recognized workers’ reps, but Domino’s is holding out. Move follows success at unionizing Burger Ranch and McDonald’s.

Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad
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Avi Rabia and Irene outside Domino's in Tel Aviv, April 2014.
Avi Rabia and Irene outside Domino's in Tel Aviv, April 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad

Avi Rabia has been working at Domino’s Pizza on Tel Aviv’s Ibn Gabirol Street for seven years. Irene, who asked that her full name not be used, has been working at the same branch for a year. Both are responsible for closing the restaurant every night. After midnight, they clean the dishes, wash the floor and throw out the garbage. Rabia, a social-sciences student, works seven days a week to realize his dream of buying an apartment. Irene, who studies animation, works five or six shifts a week and says she’s helping her family out. “We are at work more than at home, and that’s why work is so important to me,” he says, noting that he was chosen as the branch’s outstanding employee.

The declaration last week that Domino’s and Pizza Hut employees are unionizing is a direct continuation of the trend that started after the social protests of 2011.

Rabia and Irene, who are among the leaders of the workers’ unionizing efforts, work hard at grinding tasks that, besides closing up, includes deliveries in wind and rain, irritated customers and dangerous roads. Three days ago, they were asked by the Histadrut labor federation to join the union. Workers’ representatives say they have already signed up about half the chain’s workers – which they say totals 1,100 (they say the company will not reveal the number of its employees) – and yet Domino’s will still not recognize them as representing its employees.

Pizza Hut has recognized the union representatives among its employees.

“We took the management by storm,” Rabia says proudly, adding that the only workers who didn’t join were those on managerial courses or those who “blindly support management.”

Irene sees the big picture. “I feel like this struggle is part of the fight against rampant capitalism in this country,” she says. “The fact that we don’t live in the YOO towers [the luxury-housing project in Tel Aviv] doesn’t mean we are little people who can’t speak.”

Unexpectedly, Rabia speaks of the chain’s CEO, Yossi Elbaz, with great admiration. “Yossi and I always talked to each other at eye level, and he helped me when I needed it. I’m surprised at him. Maybe he thinks that unionizing will hurt the chain’s annual income, but that’s not true,” Rabia says. “We only want to be recognized, start negotiations and get on with business as usual. I don’t want a revolution, I’m for Domino’s,” he says.

But when we try to take a picture outside the branch, with the Domino’s sign in the background, the branch manager asks us to go elsewhere. “This is my window. It belongs to me,” he says, snapping us with his cell phone to deter us.

During the interview with Rabia and Irene last Thursday, they got a text message – like the other employees – from the deputy CEO that his door is always open. “Meanwhile, as union members, we don’t see that,” Rabia says.

The main problem, as Rabia and Irene see it, is that employees – even those working seven years like Rabia and workers in their 40s – are earning minimum or near-minimum wage. Delivery people earn tips, but workers inside the restaurant have to manage on their salary alone. Rabia says that if it’s tight in Tel Aviv, where the chain is growing and Domino’s works according to the law, outside of Tel Aviv things are even tougher. The union wants to institute raises every six months.

Chen Kahlon, 22, a surfing instructor and employee of the Domino’s franchisee in Netanya, says she sometimes works a double shift, from 10:30 A.M. to 10:30 P.M. and doesn’t get overtime. “I complained about it to the chain’s management and they said they’d talk to me. When I exploded over it, they gave me a shift every two weeks and my boss wrote me that if I’m unhappy I can quit. I must say that our relationship is still cool, and when his wife had a baby I bought a present. But let them pay me properly,” she added.

Grisha Feinberg, 28, has been working at Domino’s in Be’er Sheva’s Ramot neighborhood for eight years. For years he worked for the chain’s franchisee, but 18 months ago Domino’s bought the branch and since then he says his conditions have deteriorated. For example, he says the company has stopped paying the annual benefit known as dmei havra’a (convalescence pay). After an unsuccessful attempt to organize through one union, the Histadrut has taken up the challenge.

Irene and Avi Rabia say they have to pay 200 shekels (about $57) for their own uniforms. When Rabia’s motorcycle was scratched at work, he had to fix it out of his own pocket for 500 shekels.

“The employers have to know that they won’t get quality people for the minimum wage the law allows. If the law allowed slavery, we’d be slaves,” he says.

According to the Histadrut’s Vered Gransky, the success of the union’s efforts at Burger Ranch and McDonald’s opened the door to their work for the Domino’s employees.

Domino’s responded: “The company welcomes all efforts at organizing, as long as it is done within the law. So far, no workers’ representatives have proven that they have approval. The company follows the law, pays its workers all that is required and demanded by law, including dmei havra’a. Any attempt to say differently constitutes a lie and opens the door to a libel suit.”

Avi Rabia and Irene outside Domino's in Tel Aviv last week.Credit: Moti Milrod

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