Mid-July, a crowd of one hundred union members and their allies carried large red flags, megaphones, and red signs emblazoned with “Industrial Workers of the World” and “SEIU” as they marched the perimeter of the 92nd and Powell Burgerville. The marchers energetically joined their voices while just feet away were two security officers who stood on the perimeter, one wearing black shades and the other slowly sipping a Burgerville branded drink cup. Towering above us all floated a giant inflatable rat that stood tall beside the restaurant’s own sign. Burgerville is known for its locally and ethically sourced ingredients. Ironically, the workers attest to a less “ethical” attitude toward the chain’s own employees.
For over a year, the workers at one of Portland’s iconic restaurant chains have been demanding the right to negotiate collectively and an end to a string of firings and disciplinary action against unionized workers.
Brandon Doyle, the Shop Steward for the picketed Burgerville Store #41, described the main demands of the union as necessary change in wages and working conditions. “People are struggling,” Doyle said. “We want to be the first union to break that cycle.”
Doyle went on to describe the relationship between the union and management. “They’re not even recognizing us as a real union,” he said. “We want them to sit down and negotiate with us. The first thing we want is better wages for workers. We want a minimum fifteen dollars for everyone, now.”
The Burgerville Union website lists the Union’s demands to be a raise of five dollars per hour for all employees. As Doyle also described, the Union’s demands included bettering work conditions and demanding compliance with existing laws, referencing personal concerns with health and safety violations. Others at the rally recounted unfair treatment based on gender, while others demanded affordable healthcare and maternity leave.
Mark Medina, another organizer, explained the principles and history of the Burgerville Workers’ Union. “[We’re] an independent organization,” Medina said. “It’s member-run, democratic and horizontal organization. We’re affiliated with Industrial Workers of the World, our parent organization. A lot of us are members of both unions. It’s been really inspiring to see workers from the BVWU take part in other actions for other unions”.
By the end of July, the union’s black and brown caucus ratified a motion to demand that Burgerville establish a company policy requiring ICE agents to present a warrant in order to enter back of house areas of its restaurants, in addition to withdrawing from E-Verify. At Santa Cruz Episcopal Church on NE Glisan, BVWU held a community meeting and potluck that focused on how to build a comprehensive movement for immigration reform in Portland.
At the beginning of August, Burgerville lost a year-long case with the National Labor Relations Board over the illegal practice of prohibiting workers from visiting store premises when not working. The company has since posted official notices inside each Burgerville location informing workers that the company had been violating their rights.
On Labor Day, workers at the Convention Center Burgerville went on a day-long walkout strike, which coincided with another picket line outside the shop.
Throughout this summer, local students have shared interests with local workers because in many cases, local students are local workers. As we struggle to keep our tuition affordable in the face of increases, we, the students of Portland State, should support those working to keep our wages high enough to afford that tuition. The campaign at Burgerville affects not only workers at that company or in the fast food industry but everyone in the service economy. A victory for Burgerville workers means a victory for collective negotiations, which is the only way to ensure our standard of living maintains pace with inflation.