In 2015, workers at the Pacific Northwestern chain Burgerville started building what would become the country’s first federally recognized fast-food union. It took three years from that point to actually become federally recognized, starting with a single store on 92nd and Powell.
Years later, several Portland restaurants, bakeries, and cafes have unionized, gone on strike, and fought for worker protections in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather. The Portland chapter of Industrial Workers of the World have begun focusing on developing food service worker unions via Shift Change PDX. Chefs and food service workers have started cooperative restaurants and bars, while other restaurant owners have changed their business model to include profit sharing options. As workers at high-profile Portland brands like Voodoo Doughnut attempt to gain federal recognition, smaller restaurants have conducted their own collective action, like strikes. Restaurant unions have been gaining steam across the country, but Portland has become a focal point for the modern labor rights movement within the food service industry.
Below, find the step-by-step story behind Portland’s fight for a unionized restaurant scene, from the first walk-out to the latest election.