Portland Burgerville workers go on strike for higher wages
Frustration about wages boiled over at Burgerville Wednesday, Oct. 23, as workers went on strike at four of the five unionized shake-and-fries Portland restaurants.
Each of the striking locations — near the Oregon Convention Center, on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, at Southeast 92nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard, and at Northeast Glisan Street and 82nd Avenue — will remain open, management said, as some workers decided against joining the walkout.
But at a 5:30 p.m. rally Wednesday at the convention center storefront, 1135 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., shouts of protest formed a line around the eatery. "What's disgusting? Union busting! What's outrageous? Burgerville wages!" workers cried.
Organizers with Burgerville Workers Union said the company doesn't provide predictable scheduling or offer the greatest benefits. But their primary focus is on wages. "Ultimately, Burgerville is a minimum wage employer. In the state of Oregon, that means they're a poverty wage employer, and we want to change that," said bargaining team member Emmett Schlenz, who has worked at the Hawthorne Burgerville for two years.
After more than a year and a half of contract negotiations, dealmaking reached an impasse last week. A spokesperson for the Southwest Washington company said the union wanted a $5 hourly raise, which wouldn't have included employees at 36 nonunionized restaurants. Management at Burgerville pushed back, saying it would be unfair to give 12% of the workforce a 36% raise.
"The union can walk away, but we're not," Burgerville Chief Executive Officer Jill Taylor said in a statement. "We will be here tomorrow and the next day and the next day working hard for our guests, our employees and our region."
The 58-year-old company said it recently took a $3 million loan to raise all crew members' wages by $1 an hour. Union reps' rebuttal is that the company is only beating a state mandated pay bump by six months.
The @BVWkrUnion has begun to picket outside the Convention Center Burgerville, demanding higher wages. Iâ€™ve been told workers plan to camp outside the Vancouver HQ tomorrow pic.twitter.com/BLEUnyl0Ck— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) October 24, 2019
According to a company statement, workers at Burgerville make a minimum of $13.50 an hour and top out around $16.18 hourly, plus tips. The company also touts its health insurance, life insurance, sick leave and scholarship programs. It says all employees are treated equally regardless of race or gender identity.
Those standing on the picket line, however, disagree. "Corporate is spending a lot of money getting new equipment, but they don't care about the backbone of the company," said Burgerville employee Betty Buchanan. "I've seen a lot of the workers that's been there 14, 18 years, and they're only making a dollar more than I'm making, and I don't think that's right."
The Burgerville Union, part of the Industrial Workers of the World, plans a week of action, including an #OccupyBurgerville campout at the company's Vancouver, Washington, headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 24, and strikes at the Montavilla location on Friday, Oct. 25, and the Hawthorne location on Saturday, Oct. 26.
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