Vancouver-based Burgerville said Friday it is ready to work with a union at one of its Southeast Portland restaurants, should one be created after a vote later this month.
Workers will decide April 22 and 23 whether to become the first federally recognized fast-food union in the country.
Called The Burgerville Workers Union, it would represent hourly employees at a restaurant on Portland’s Southeast 92nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard.
Though union organizing efforts have been ongoing for nearly two years, with picketing and a recent call for a boycott, the Vancouver-based fast-food chain rarely spoke publicly before this week. Beth Brewer, senior vice president of operations, told The Columbian that Burgerville wanted to make sure unionization was the action most of its workers wanted to take.
“We haven’t had a lot to say because it is an employee-led conversation at a point when they are beginning to organize,” she said. “Until they demonstrated that a sufficient number of folks were interested in being represented, we really didn’t have anything to share other than we respect their rights to organize.”
Organizers say they have support for the vote, as evidenced by having enough employee-signed authorization cards to petition the National Labor Relations Board.
The effort is backed by the Industrial Workers of the World, based in Chicago.
Stefan Stackhouse, a 24-year-old organizer, said they are “excited to get this campaign and this industry into new territory by getting this recognition.”
“I feel a little nervous to see how Burgerville is going to respond in the next few weeks,” he added. “They’ve heard our demands and have had a lot of chances to mull it over. We’re ready to negotiate and ready to improve our working conditions.”
If the union effort prevails, Burgerville will have to negotiate a contract to establish workers’ wages, benefits and working conditions. It’s unclear how that will impact other Burgerville restaurants and workers in the future. Liz Graham, director of human resources at the company, said the vote does not really change the way it does business.
“The last two years we haven’t been able to make any changes to wages or working conditions or hours because we couldn’t change the status quo while this is all happening,” she said. “Until there’s a vote, we can’t change those items.”
And a vote to unionize does not mean everything goes back to business as usual.
Contract negotiations can sometimes be a protracted effort, and there is no deadline for either side to reach a deal. Burgerville declined to comment on how negotiations might unfold, but said Graham said they were prepared to work “in good faith.”
Burgerville, owned by Holland Inc., employs 1,500 across 42 locations in Oregon and Washington. The restaurant waswas founded in 1961.