The National Labor Relations Board found that Voodoo Doughnut illegally fired employees for their heat-related strike, according to the company’s workers union. In statements from Doughnut Workers United and the Industrial Workers of the World, workers and union representatives report that the NLRB found merit in the unions’ claims of unfair labor practices.
In June 2021, a record-breaking heat wave hit Portland, which killed more than 100 people in Oregon and caused widespread heat exhaustion, power outages, and machinery failure at Portland restaurants, bars, and cafes. During the heat wave, a number of Voodoo Doughnut employees working at the Old Town location went on strike protesting the excessive heat within the building. The strike was a last resort after growing concerns related to the heat throughout the week; workers reported experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, including nausea and fatigue, as early as Thursday, June 24. “This is not the first year that heat has been an issue at this location. The current AC unit, which did not fully cool the location, was only installed this year. It’s been a daily conversation,” Samantha Bryce, a Voodoo Doughnut employee and organizer of Voodoo Doughnut’s workers union, told Eater Portland in June. “The only reason you didn’t hear about a strike or a walk-out in the past is because we didn’t have a union then.”
Employees approached the general manager at the store, and according to those workers, the general manager told them that if it was too hot within the building, they could leave. Employees participated in a work stoppage for two days, during the end of the heat wave. Temperatures reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, June 28, the second day of the workers’ strike.
In response, however, many of the employees who went on strike ended up getting fired. Workers participating in union action — strikes, walk-outs, pickets — are generally protected under the National Labor Relations Act, which would legally block employers from firing them in retaliation. However, members of the company’s union, Doughnut Workers United, say nine employees were fired for “workplace abandonment.” In response, the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
According to Doughnut Workers United, the National Labor Relations Board informed them on October 6 that seven of the nine employees fired would have to be rehired by the company with back-pay, in response to the union’s unfair labor practice charge. In other words, the union says the National Labor Relations Board sided with the union, and found the company had violated national labor law.
Portland food service workers have long been leaders in the growing restaurant labor movement: The Burgerville Workers Union, representing employees of the Pacific Northwestern fast-food chain, was the country’s first federally recognized fast-food union, and paved the way for food service workers to participate in more union actions around the city. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic and recent extreme weather events, that interest in workplace organizing has only grown. During a period when many workers have been subjected to unsafe working conditions without health insurance or a living wage, many food workers — whether they work for food processing plants and mass-production bakeries, third-party grocery delivery apps, or coffee shops and chains — have felt empowered to unionize or strike as a matter of survival. The Portland chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World released a guide to COVID-19 crisis organizing, responding to the growing interest in labor unions, and a food-service-specific unionizing resource, Shift Change PDX, popped up on Instagram in late 2020. That focus on workplace safety has extended beyond union workers: In response to the June 2021 heat wave, Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration built a new set of rules for employers during extreme heat events.
The details of the settlement have not been disclosed publicly by the National Labor Relations Board or Voodoo Doughnut. Eater Portland has reached out to both Voodoo Doughnut and the National Labor Relations Board; neither has responded to multiple requests for comment.