Major escalation: Burgerville Workers Union now calling on consumers to boycott the company

ON STRIKE AT BURGERVILLE. Workers at the Convention Center Burgerville location gathered Feb. 1 outside the store on day one of a three-day walkout.

By Don McIntosh

PORTLAND, Ore. — Twenty-one months into a union campaign at Burgerville, the Burgerville Workers Union has announced a major escalation: A call for consumers to boycott the regional fast food chain until the company agrees to negotiate with the union.

The announcement came at a 4 p.m. rally amid a three-day strike that began yesterday at the Northeast MLK Boulevard store. Today the strike spread to the store at Southeast Powell and 26th.

Lunch rush at the struck Burgerville.

“We’re striking to protest illegal union busting, and because we want our union to be recognized,” says Michelle C., a night shift crew member at the MLK store.  “Without recognition, we’re not going to get our demands met.”

No law prevents Burgerville from agreeing to meet with the union, but the company has opposed the union effort and said it won’t parley with the union unless the union proves it has majority support in a government-administered election. The company has 44 locations and about 1,300 employees in Oregon and Washington.

The union’s chief demands are a $5 an hour raise, affordable health benefits, and for the company to negotiate with the union. But they also want the reinstatement of workers they say were fired for supporting the union.

The union says as many as six pro-union workers have been terminated by the company on trivial pretexts.

The most recent was Canaan Schlesinger, fired Jan. 31 from the MLK store less than two months after he was hired. The official reason: Theft, for having put a dollop of SoftServe ice cream in his coffee instead of cream. The real reason, he says: “They identified me as a union agitator.”

It wasn’t that he wore union buttons like some of his coworkers, Schlesinger said, but that he asked questions and showed independence. For instance, asked by a manager to sign an acknowledgement that he’d read and would agree to the rules in the employee handbook, he declined to sign until after he’d read the rules.

Schlesinger said his firing came just one day after a pro-union drive-through worker was fired at the same store, just weeks after becoming a father — ostensibly for smelling of cannabis, which he uses to treat epilepsy.

FIRED FOR USING SOFTSERVE AS CREAMER, OR FOR SUPPORTING THE UNION? Union supporter Canaan Schlesinger walked a strike picket line Feb. 1 outside the Burgerville store where he was fired the day before — ostensibly for using SoftServe as creamer in his coffee.

Firing a worker for supporting a union is a violation of federal labor law, known as an “unfair labor practice.” At least 18 separate unfair labor practice charges have been filed by the union with the National Labor Relations Board since the campaign began. Six are still pending investigation. Ten have been withdrawn or dismissed. In two cases, the NLRB found the company had broken the law, but Burgerville settled the charges and agreed to post a notice pledging not to do the things it was accused of doing. In those cases, a manager at Vancouver Plaza location told employees who were distributing “Burgerville Workers Need a Raise!” leaflets outside the store that they could not be on the property; after that, all employees received notice of a rule prohibiting employees from loitering on the property before and after their work shifts. A federal administrative law judge found that both the rule, and the manager’s conduct, broke federal labor law.

The union says as many as 25 workers at the two stores are taking part in the strike.

Burgerville Workers Union is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). So that the minimum wage workers could afford to take part in the strike, the union spent months fundraising to build a strike fund. Not all workers walked off the job at the two locations, and the stores remained open, though business was quite a bit slower than normal during the picketing. And strikers didn’t appear to bear any animosity toward their non-striking coworkers.

The Burgerville Workers Union campaign has been endorsed by the state and local AFL-CIO, and strike pickets at both locations were joined by contingents from several unions that pledged to mobilize solidarity picketers: Members of Iron Workers Local 29 in hard hats and work clothes blocked the drive-through during lunch hour Thursday, and a similar group of Carpenters Local 1503 showed up during dinner along with a large inflatable pig. Today’s Powell walkout was joined by a purple-clad group from SEIU Local 49, the health care and building services union whose headquarters is just across the street.

“We’re down here to support the workers who are trying to make a fair wage,” said union iron worker Matt Momb.

UPDATE  2/2/18, 6 PM: After rallying at Northeast Portland’s Holladay Park, strikers and supporters marched to the struck MLK Blvd. store. There, accompanied by several clergymen, State Representative Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland) tried to present a letter to managers, but they refused to accept it. Sanchez told the Labor Press that wasn’t the first time she was rebuffed: A previous call to a company executive went unreturned.

“The fact of the matter is: People can’t afford to live here any more if they can’t make a decent wage,” Sanchez said. “Corporations have a responsibility to make sure their workers can afford to live a decent life, and it’s not okay for them to keep poor people poor.”

Iron Workers Local 29 president Shane Nehls led a contingent of union iron workers in a lunch hour strike solidarity picket. No cars were seen to cross their picket line set up by the store’s drive-through entrance.


  1. I am a big Burgerville fan, but will not be going there again, except perhaps to show support, until this shit gets sorted out. Union busting is not right. It is not good business. And it’s not good for Oregon.

  2. I rarely eat fast food, but if Burgerville does the right thing by workers I will be a regular customer. It’s heartening to see support from other unions and to see that NW Labor Press is still around. My dad used to get that paper in the mail, being a member of IBEW and the bricklayer’s union. Union wages helped our family enter the middle class and send my brother and I to university. These workers deserve no less. Go Labor!

  3. It is unfortunate that these workers even have to do this. Seriously? Do the right thing corporate! It isn’t that complicated. Yet, it has taken the employees two years to organize(using their own time and money) and make sense out of what was happening and make a plan. We are not in a world of “well, if you won’t do the job, we will simply find someone else to do it” Go ahead and try, it isn’t that easy. In my experience, unions are not necessary when management isn’t greedy.

  4. I don’t eat much fast food, but I choose Burgerville when a quick fuel-up is in order. I have always liked the company, but they need to show respect for their workers, and the community, by negotiating fairly with the union. I’ll not be patronizing the company until they settle with their workers.

  5. As a 45+ year Vegetarian I was delighted when Burgerville was the first of it’s kind to serve vegi burgers and on the rare occasion I would grab fast food they were my choice. It’s been a while since fast food for me but when folks ask I always recommend them. I shall no longer support them in any way until and unless they support their Employees in a humane, respectful, and fair way. IN SOLIDARITY. MICHELE MARIANA, PROUD AEA, SAG-AFTRA UNION MEMBER. Would be proud to stand with you in person if knew when and where. Think other Union folk would as well. Stay Strong! Thank you for your Commitment.

  6. This is very sad. Burgerville do right by your workers and you’ll see the turnover rate of employees go down and those workers will stay with you. I am not a fast-food fan. In fact, I may be the only person in North America (north of the Mexican border) who in his entire life has never eaten anything from McDonalds. NEVER However, when I’m working in Southwest Washington and Oregon and need a quick lunch I stop at Burgerville. I trust the quality of their food products, have always had great service in a very clean facility. The employees who prepare my lunch and work the counter are the face of Burgerville.

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