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The unionized burger joint in Portland's Lents neighborhood is no longer safe for employees, says Burgerville CEO Jill Taylor.

COURTESY PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS - Burgerville announced the temporary closure of its drive-through restaurant in the Lents neighborhood of Southeast Portland on Tuesday, Aug. 3. Burgerville has locked the doors of its Lents area eatery in Southeast Portland.

The closure — billed as temporary — comes after "many months" of worsening conditions at the neighborhood burger joint, 3504 S.E. 92nd Ave., due to rising problems with crime and vandalism, the company said in an Aug. 3 statement.

The iconic Pacific Northwest chain says it hired private security in an effort to improve employee and customer safety, but to no avail.

"The environment around the restaurant has deteriorated seriously," a company spokesperson told the Tribune. "Police are now being called daily. Burgerville employees have found weapons, drug paraphernalia and human waste on the property."

The neon-hued fast-food restaurant shares a border with the Interstate 205 multi-use path and an Oregon Department of Transportation buffer that has hosted large homeless encampments this year. The responsibility for clearing camps on ODOT land within city limits falls on Portland officials, not the state, however.

A spokesperson for the city's Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program says the city removed a "substantial" amount of garbage from the area on July 2, and the camp remains on a list of high priority clean-up sites.

"Prior to the pandemic we had work crews drive up the I-205 multiuse path every day to collect garbage," the official said. "It is safe to say that camps increased in both size and number in this area during the pandemic, as well as many other areas throughout Portland."

Portland Police Lt. Greg Pashley said authorities responded to the diner at least twice in July, six times in June and seven times in May, though the records are "imperfect" and may be an undercount.

While there's no timeline for reopening, Burgerville CEO Jill Taylor said all employees at the shuttered storefront have been offered jobs at nearby locations.

"I will always put the safety and security of our employees first," Taylor said. "It is not just Burgerville. Other businesses are being impacted, too. There is a humanitarian crisis happening throughout our region, and we need to come together around solutions."

Burgerville owns the Lents property outright via its privately held owner, The Holland Inc., records show. The location is one of five that has sought to unionize since 2016, though no deal between labor and management has ever been signed.

Reached for comment, union officials said the closure of restaurant No. 41 "comes as a complete shock" to workers who did not receive a hint of warning.

"We will be meeting with our legal counsel and allies to see how best to move forward and to ascertain if this is supported by our membership at store 41 or not," the officials said. "These decisions should come with the consent of employees, in tandem with the democratically elected representatives of employees on how to resolve the issue."

After 60 years in business, Burgerville now boasts 1,000 employees and some 40 locations. The company has no current plans to expand. It has restaurants at three other locations in Portland, as well as in the adjacent suburbs of Gresham and Milwaukie.

"My hope is this will be a temporary closure, and that we can work with the leaders in Multnomah County, the city of Portland, and the state of Oregon to improve conditions in communities throughout the Northwest," Taylor said.

Zane Sparling
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