At Portland icon Voodoo Doughnuts, workers announce they’ve formed a union

By Don McIntosh

Workers at the downtown location of Voodoo Doughnut announced today that they’ve formed a union, affiliated with the Portland chapter of Industrial Workers of the World.

They’re unionizing in response to low wages and unsafe and stressful working conditions, says Voodoo Doughnut employee Samantha Bryce. Workers start at minimum wage ($12.50) and later get a $0.75 raise. And they feel unsafe: The shop is open 24 hours a day in a high-crime section of downtown Portland. Bryce says workers suffer regular assaults. But Voodoo doesn’t employ a security guard. On March 9, the store was robbed by a man brandishing a hatchet.

“We are expected as employees to take care of all security, though we’ve never been trained, and have no resources to deal with it,” Bryce told the Labor Press.

The union effort has been covertly under way since last June, and was on track to launch soon, but the coronavirus crisis sped up the timeline. The outbreak also added new demands to the list: severance for several dozen workers who were laid off last week due to the COVID-19 crisis, and the right to cash out accrued paid time off. The shop remains open, though seating has been removed.

Bryce says the Voodoo Doughnut Workers Union (VWU) has support from a majority of the workers — both the 52 who were employed before the layoff and the roughly 30 who remain. Workers are asking the company’s owners to voluntarily recognize the union and meet to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for the downtown location.

The Labor Press left a message with Voodoo top brass and will update this story if they respond.

Voodoo was founded in 2002 by former rock club owner Tres Shannon and his friend Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson as a cash-only late-night donut shop serving punk-rock versions of classic donuts to downtown bar and night club patrons. But its signature pink boxes of phallus-shaped donuts came to be regarded as a hip souvenir of “Portland weird” to out-of-towners, who’d line up for a block outside its downtown store. By 2014, as portrayed in a first-person account published in Willamette Week, the company had become a heartless high-turnover sweatshop where workers faced swift termination if they didn’t get customers out the door quickly and up-sell gullible tourists. Since 2018, Voodoo has been run by former MOD Pizza chain executive Chris Schultz. Today, Voodoo has nine locations, including stores in Austin, Houston, Denver, Hollywood, Orlando, and Eugene. For now, the union effort is only at the downtown Portland location.

In a way, Voodoo is a great symbol of Portland, a once affordable DIY mecca that polarized economically amid a torrent of progressive hipster hype. The Voodoo union eruption may be a sign of the times.


MORE: For updates, follow the union at the Skunkline Workers Union Facebook page. [Skunkline Workers Union was the code name for the union drive; A skunk line is the line around the donut when it’s being fried.]

5 Comments on At Portland icon Voodoo Doughnuts, workers announce they’ve formed a union

  1. This sounds like a reasonable course of action to me. The rapid growth of the company has overrun the people growing it. Time for some new management maybe. Definitely time to hire security.

  2. Don McItosh, you concluded this article with the following comment: “In a way, Voodoo is a great symbol of Portland, a once affordable DIY mecca that polarized economically amid a torrent of progressive hipster hype. The Voodoo union eruption may be a sign of the times”. I’ve read that several times and it’s basically garble. Could you please rephrase the sentence?

    • Hi John, I think that’s a valid point; maybe I was over-reaching, trying to say in one or two sentences what would take an essay to flesh out. Let me put it this way: Twenty or 25 years ago, a young working person could afford to live and work in Portland, or even put together some money with a friend and rent a hole-in-the-wall storefront to sell donuts to late night bar patrons. That Portland is gone. Today, young Portlanders without capital find themselves working minimum wage at a heavily hyped donut shop, and struggle to afford rent. Customers line up outside—not because the donuts are so great—but because they read in a guidebook that it’s a must-visit site that showcases Portland’s personality.

  3. I am grateful Don McIntosh for all your hard work and for employees to stand up and make human rights demands of their employers as they do in the Wobblies. The Wobs understand what a slow grinding process it is to get businesses to even recognize them as opposed to a “Business Union” which are in the AFL-CIO. That seems to have more clout with the bosses. When workers band together in Solidarity that is when the process moves forward. Many business union members have not studied labor history and don’t seem to understand the basics of the need for unionism or solidarity.

    Anyway, thank you for your reporting, I look forward every month to this paper!

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