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After years of negotiations, the Burgerville Workers' Union says a new contract will create the first fast food labor group to be legally recognized.

COURTESY PHOTO: BURGERVILLE - The iconic Pacific Northwest chain Burgerville will soon sign a contract with workers at five unionized locations. After more than 40 months of negotiations, bosses and employees at Burgerville have struck a deal — making the chain the nation's first fast-food business with a legally-recognized union contract.

The new agreement, which has yet to be formally ratified, will cover roughly 12% of the iconic Pacific Northwest business' 800-person workforce, with the 100 workers spread out across five unionized shops.

Officials with the Industrial Workers of the World, who organized the Burgerville Workers' union, said they expected to know the result of shop votes by mid-December.

"This is important for the future, for the kids, so they can have more money and work less hours," said Raka, a long-time employee of one of the unionized burger joints. "This is also important for me, so that I can have a consistent schedule and have more money to support my family."

After a marathon 51 bargaining sessions held since June 2018, the new deal may mean an end to the testy relationship between labor and management — as negotiations broke down multiple times over the years, resulting in picket lines, strikes and calls for consumer boycotts.

"I am so pleased to reach an agreement that serves Burgerville employees, who are the heart of this company," said Burgerville CEO Jill Taylor. "The vision we hold is for the Pacific Northwest to be the healthiest region on the planet, and we will keep investing in Burgerville employees, the communities we serve and the region's farmers and ranchers as one team."

Highlights of the pending deal include:

• Wage increases of 25 cents per hour above Oregon or Washington's minimum wage, until starting pay reaches $15 hourly. The company says it agreed to this policy in 2019 and now offers starting pay of $14.25 an hour.

• Implementing tipping procedures, which were piloted but not fully adopted in 2019, in all restaurants. Allowing customers to tip will likely boost worker wages by $2 per hour.

• Expanding sick leave, vacation benefits and paid parental leave policies.

"We need real change in our society, and these improvements are just the beginning of new struggles to win even more," said union rep Luis Brennan. "For us, ratifying this contract is the first step to going on strike for better the day it expires."

Zane Sparling
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