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WWGR: Filipino food joint draws criticism in Tacoma over worker protection rights

TACOMA, Wash. — When Filipino food joint ‘Jollibee’ recently opened its doors in Tacoma, it was met with dozens of people advocating for worker protection rights.

“Jollibee is a very popular and successful Filipino business. We want it to thrive, we want to support it,” said Jill Mangaliman, who is the chairperson for GABRIELA.

The chain is typically known for its Chicken Joys and Sweet Spaghetti, but it’s the people behind the counter that Mangaliman says deserve more.

“If the Jolliebee workers here need the community support, we are here. So, we are raising awareness and appreciating the workers for all of their hard work,” she said.

GABRIELA is a Filipino immigrant advocacy group.

Their fight for worker rights spurs from an incident at a New Jersey ‘Jollibee’ back in February.

It’s where 9 workers were fired for speaking out about the need for higher wages, holiday pay, and better working conditions.

This case was brought to the National Labor Relations Board, jumpstarting the ‘Justice for Jollibee Workers’ campaign.

“We really want to make sure that at every store, the workers are treated well. Not just in New Jersey, not just in Seattle, but all over,” said Mangaliman.

Once the new Tacoma location opened in late October, GABRIELA wanted to make sure their support was heard.

“They acknowledge the right to organize because they should not retaliate against folks who are advocating for their workplace to be better,” she said.

But for years, Tukwila was home to the only Jollibee in the entire Pacific Northwest, which was often overwhelmed with customers.

“So, people would come to Tukwila from like Vancouver, BC, or as far south as Oregon, in order to get there Jolliebee fix. And that included Filipino workers who were about to go up to Alaska,” said a former Tukwila Jollibee employee.

He asked to remain anonymous but wants to shed light on what it was really like back of the house.

“The vast majority of my coworkers. This was their first job after migrating from the Philippines. And they were taking care of family members back home and trying their best to visit them, you know, once a year,” he explained.

Jollibee is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, but no holiday pay.

“The holidays are just kind of ridiculous,” he explained. “It was just that the intensity of the entire operation was turned up to like 11…. People who are pushed to migrate from their home country in order to take jobs where they are afraid and therefore unwilling to stand up for their own rights.”

He believes that at times, they’re overworked and underappreciated.

“A very desperate and precarious situation where this job as hard as it may be, provides some sense of security. That is something that management takes advantage of.”

After seeing what happened in New Jersey, they believe standing together can make a difference moving forward.

“If it’s just me, it might not make a difference. But if it’s all of us, like we spoke up together, you know then we can really make the workplace better,” said Mangaliman.