Portland-founded burger chain Little Big Burger fired a vocal union member following a strike last weekend. According to a Little Big Union statement, an overflowing sink at the NW 23rd location flooded the back of the restaurant, including the walk-in and dishwashing area. In the past several months, two employees slipped three times and received workers’ compensation for similar injuries at this particular location.
After raising concerns regarding what they say are chronic short-staffing issues and unsafe, slippery conditions in the back of the restaurant, Ashley Reyes, Jules Jones, and Bradley Meyers went on strike on Friday evening, May 3.
According to Adrian Oca, regional vice president of operations at Little Big Burger owner Chanticleer Holdings, the location was not understaffed. “The NW 23rd store was staffed normally on Friday, with 4 employees, like nearly every other Little Big Burger store on a Friday night. This is not short-staffed,” Oca writes in an email. “In fact, the NW 23rd store was not even our busiest store that night.”
He goes on to say that an employee quickly stopped the flooding, which he said was caused by employees soaking and de-greasing hood filters.
The next day, Little Big Burger managers suspended those three employees. By Sunday, Little Big Burger fired Reyes. According to the Little Big Union, Reyes was given no reason for her firing at the employee meeting. Oca tells a different story.
“Little Big Burger complies with the law and does not fire people who have no disciplinary write-ups except for... cases of dangerous, illegal or extremely egregious and unprotected misconduct,” he says.
The National Labor Relations Act protects the right to strike over hazardous working conditions. The union has filed complaints with both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Labor Relations Board.
Earlier this spring, Little Big Burger employees publicly announced their union, calling for things like $5 raises for employees, benefits, and paid sick leave via voluntary recognition. Oca counters that entry-level Little Big Burger employees in Portland average more than $17 in hourly income, and the company will not officially recognize the union until employees participate in an “election free from unfair pressure or coercion.”
Since then, Little Big Burger had a struggle over union posters in break rooms. The company eventually decided to allow space for the union’s signage. Now Oca says “employees claiming to be represented by the proposed union have ripped down and/or defaced Little Big Burger postings unrelated to the proposed union.”
Reyes wasn’t the first employee to be fired after the union went public: In April, Little Big Burger fired Ava Turner, a union member. The union says Turner was fired for being late to her shift. “We do not comment on specific personnel actions,” Oca says. “However, I can assure you that our business records reflect that we consistently employ progressive discipline and have not fired anyone within the context of the current union issue who appeared a little bit late to a shift one time.” According to coworkers, tardiness hasn’t resulted in firings in the past.
This story will be updated as information becomes available.
Updated Wednesday, May 8, 2019, at 11:35 a.m.
This story is updated to include Little Big Burger’s responses to Little Big Union’s claims.
Correction Friday, May 10, 2019, at 12:23 p.m.
This story has been corrected based on updated information from the Little Big Union.
• Little Big Burger [Official]
• Little Big Union [Official]
• The Workers at Portland-Based Chain Little Big Burger Are Unionizing [EPDX]
• Little Big Union Says Corporate Has Removed Pro-Union Posters from Break Rooms [EPDX]
• Previous Little Big Burger coverage [EPDX]
• Behind Portland’s Fight for Unionized Fast Food Restaurants [EPDX]