Workers at a second Burgerville restaurant in Portland, Ore. are petitioning for a union vote after organizers succeeded earlier this week in getting a federally approved bargaining unit at another one of the brand’s locations in the city.
“We’re looking at some dates in May for the next election,” said Kate Suisman, an attorney at the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, a legal non-profit based in Portland that represents low-wage workers.
Workers at the first Burgerville voted Sunday and Monday 18 to 4 in favor of being represented by the Industrial Workers of the World Portland Chapter, also known as the Burgerville Workers Union. Three workers abstained in the vote, which was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
“Employees at Burgerville Store No. 41 have voted to unionize in the fair and free election overseen by the NLRB,” said Beth Brewer, senior vice president of operations for Vancouver, Wash.-based Burgerville, in a statement.
“Our employees have spoken. We hear them, and we support their decision. We will navigate this new working relationship together in a positive, productive way and bargain in good faith.”
Brewer added: “We are proud of our relationship with our coworkers, and we will continue to provide a fair, positive work environment for all.”
Workers nationally have participated in a number of walkouts and protests over the past several years for higher wages, some under the banner of “Fight for $15,” which has been supported by the Service Employees International Union.
Observers said it was difficult to gauge whether the Burgerville vote meant broader petitions for unions in the quick-service industry. In a Working Lunch podcast featured on NRN earlier this month, leaders from Align Public Strategies, a public affairs and creative firm, had discussed the impact of a successful Burgerville union vote.
“Generally speaking, workers do not seek third-party representation — which typically costs them money out of their paychecks — in workplaces with great company culture and good communication between managers and workers,” said Franklin Coley, a partner at Align Public Strategies, in an email to NRN.
Brands that are committed to positive employee relations rarely find themselves in this position. That's particularly true in the restaurant industry.”
Burgerville noted that the Industrial Workers of the World had been unsuccessful in campaigns to unionize a Starbucks store in New York City and a Jimmy John’s location in Minneapolis, Minn. The Portland election was the authorized by the National Labor Relation’s Board after a two-year organizing drive.
Jeff Bosley, labor and employment partner in the San Francisco office of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, said restaurant management can oftentimes inoculate organizing efforts with communications.
“A lot of times it’s just focusing on the local management team and communications with employees,” Bosley said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s trying to make sure there is fair scheduling and things like that, because a lot of times it may not be economics driving it. It may be miscommunication or insufficient transparency on things like scheduling.”
Burgerville executives said they were ready to support the unionized restaurant.
The company noted in a media release that current Burgerville employees are paid about 20 percent more than the industry standard, and they are offered healthcare starting at $35 a month with 90 percent of costs covered.
“Turnover is low,” the company noted, “and the average tenure of a Burgerville employee is 29 months — 26 percent longer than the industry average. Additional benefits include paid vacation and sick leave, free life insurance, educational assistance, discounted meals and advancement opportunities. In 2017, internal candidates filled 80 percent of all open management positions.”
The union is seeking a wage raise, more affordable healthcare and free child care, the company said.
“For 57 years, Burgerville has been building relationships with team members, farmers, ranchers and customers,” Brewer added. “Business and community will always change; our collective commitment is to ‘Serve with Love.’”
Burgerville, founded in 1961, has 42 locations throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.
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