Hawthorne Burgerville becomes the third to formally unionize


A strike picket line Feb. 1, 2018, outside the Burgerville on Northeast MLK Jr. Boulevard.

By Don McIntosh

Workers at a third Burgerville restaurant are seeking federally-mandated union recognition. In April and May, workers at the company’s 92nd and Powell and Gladstone locations showed majority support for the Burgerville Workers Union in a pair of elections run by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Now, 20 of the 25 crew members at the 1122 SE Hawthorne Boulevard store have signed union authorization cards as well, and on Nov. 16 they asked the NLRB to hold an election.

Once the election is held, the Hawthorne Burgerville workers expect to join union contract negotiations that are already under way for the first two unionized stores.

[pullquote]Even if all the branding were true, we would still deserve to get paid more than we are, and have more of a voice in the workplace.”— Hawthorne Burgerville worker James Curry[/pullquote]“To say it’s been slow going would be putting it lightly,” said union spokesperson Emmett Schlenz about the contract talks, which have taken place every two to four weeks since late May.

Schlenz, an employee at the Hawthorne restaurant, says Burgerville Workers Union gave the company all its proposals last summer. The union proposals include an immediate $5-an-hour across-the-board raise (currently, substantially all crew members earn within a dollar of the $12-an-hour Portland-area legal minimum wage); 15-minute rest breaks instead of the 10-minute legal minimum; one free meal per shift (currently workers get a 70 percent discount); agreement that tip jars may be placed next to cash registers; standard union rights like “just cause” and “progressive discipline”; and a halt to employer efforts to verify that employees are legally allowed to work in the United States.

Schlenz says the company has refused to reply with its own economic proposals until after the two sides reach tentative agreement on non-economic proposals. That hasn’t happened, and Schlenz says Burgerville has agreed to no tangible improvements so far.

In the negotiations, Burgerville is represented by attorney Kristin Bremer Moore, a partner in the Tonkin Torp law firm.

Even with negotiations taking place, union supporters have continued to take action in the stores, and the company has continued to terminate union supporters.


  • Burgerville Workers Union is asking the public to boycott all 44 Burgerville locations until a fair union contract is signed. At least 17 unions have endorsed the boycott.
  • Burgerville Workers Union is affiliated with Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Since the union campaign launched publicly in 2016, Burgerville Workers Union has filed 28 charges with the NLRB alleging violations of federal labor law. At least seven of the charges, known as “unfair labor practice” charges, stemmed from cases where union supporters were terminated. But none of those resulted in the NLRB issuing formal complaints, possibly because it’s hard to prove anti-union motives contributed to the firings.

One charge did result in a cease-and-desist order from a federal administrative law judge: In a case stemming from a July 2016 incident at the Vancouver Plaza restaurant, Burgerville was ordered to stop telling workers they can’t leaflet on the property while off-duty.

Then this September, 10 union supporters at the 8218 NE Glisan St restaurant were sent home for wearing “Black Lives Matter,” “No one is illegal,” and “Abolish ICE” buttons (ICE stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The company later provided back pay to the workers, but also announced a new anti-button rule company-wide without the union’s agreement.

James Curry, a union supporter at the Hawthorne store, told the Labor Press that Burgerville’s workplace reality is very much at odds with the company’s progressive reputation.

“Their relationship with local farms, using renewable energy, those are helpful and good, but in terms of working there, our conditions as workers, it’s just like any other fast food place,” Curry said. “We get paid minimum wage. We have clocks on the wall telling us how fast we need to work.”

“And even if all the branding were true,” Curry said, “we would still deserve to get paid more than we are, and have more of a voice in the workplace.”


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