While numerous Portland businesses across the city have publicly shared their support of Black Lives Matter, one business is keeping that phrase out of the workplace. After Burgerville employees began wearing Black Lives Matter buttons in support of the ongoing protests against police brutality and white supremacy, the union says the fast food chain’s management “threatened workers with discipline.” Burgerville, the fast food chain known for its seasonal shakes and groundbreaking fast food union, has confirmed that they do not allow any sort of “Black Lives Matter” or “Justice for George Floyd” buttons or materials in the workplace.
“It is Burgerville company policy that employees working in restaurants may only distribute and wear buttons produced by Burgerville, and buttons related to terms and conditions of employment such as wages, benefits, and working conditions,” the company said in a statement to OPB.
The union, however, sees this policy as silencing its workers and has pushed back against this policy for years. In 2018, employees of the Montavilla Burgerville were sent home for wearing “Abolish ICE” and “Black Lives Matter” buttons. After public outrage, the company gave the workers backpay; however, the fast food brand later decided to clarify its button policy, banning “personal and political” buttons. The union went on to strike based on these policy changes, and union members say “the standing of the button ban has remained ambiguous until now,” according to a union press release sent out yesterday.
These issues emerge once again at various Burgerville locations: Employees say managers called the buttons a “uniform violation” — discipline related to uniform violations in the past has ranged from a writeup on the employee’s file to suspension. In response, the union is planning some sort of “direct action,” and has filed an unlawful labor practice violation with the National Labor Relations Board.
Simultaneously, the company’s official Instagram account posted a statement calling themselves “allies for change,” noting that the company would “commit” to bias trainings, “redesign the recruitment process to better attract and serve historically underrepresented people,” “partner with community organizations that prepare black youth for employment,” and “nurture black farmers and food entrepreneurs.” Almost all of the comments on the Instagram post called out the company for putting money behind boosting the Instagram post instead of donating that money to black justice causes, also noting the button policy and the company’s years of slow and fraught contract negotiations with its union. “If you’re an ally, stop threatening disciplining your workers who simply wish to wear a button in support of black people,” one commenter writes.
“We have a voice, and we have to use it,” says Montavilla Burgerville employee Enajah Glass in yesterday’s press release. “What Burgerville is doing by telling us to take off our buttons is silencing us. Nobody is going to silence me.”
Eater Portland has reached out to Burgerville for comment.
• Union Challenges Burgerville For Barring Workers’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ Buttons [OPB]
• Burgerville Employees Were Sent Home for Wearing ‘Abolish ICE’ Buttons [EPDX]
• Buttons Will Soon Be Banned at Burgerville [EPDX]
• Burgerville Workers Union Says Company Is Rescinding Disciplinary Actions on Workers at the Convention Center Restaurant [WWeek]
• Behind Portland’s Fight for Unionized Fast Food Restaurants [EPDX]