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Burgerville Workers Say Union Contract Negotiations With the Company Have Broken Down

Five years after forming the Burgerville Workers Union, employees say they’ve filed 10 complaints with the National Labor Relations Board in 2023

Burgerville workers strike during the summer
Demonstrations from the Burgerville Workers Union in 2021.
Burgerville Workers Union/Official
Paolo Bicchieri is a reporter at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, coffee and cafes, and pop-ups.

Pacific Northwest favorite Burgerville, opened in 1961 by founder George Propstra, has been the battleground for a contentious union fight between ownership and staff for the past five years. Workers saw victories when the Burgerville Workers Union formed in 2018 and secured its first contract in 2021 with the company. But that agreement expired in May 2023, and, since then, the union has been working to negotiate a new contract.

Now, the union claims that Burgerville’s leadership team is not only stalling negotiations but retaliating against staff. According to the Portland Mercury, the union has filed 10 unfair labor practice (ULP) suits with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) since the start of the year. Burgerville representatives declined to comment to the Mercury on the NLRB complaints, but stated that the company is “committed to bargaining in good faith with the union.”

When the workers won their contract in 2021, Burgerville workers became the first fast food employees ever protected by a collective bargaining agreement. But, the Mercury reports, workers throughout the five unionized stores in the Portland metropolitan area claim they’ve faced bad faith negotiating with Burgerville and allege the company hired new workers at a much higher pay rate than unionized workers in anticipation of a strike, held on July 28. Workers who participated in a July strike further claim that they were locked out of the location and their shifts were “canceled” — a potential violation of labor law. Organizers say they’ve also observed the company offering better staff meal rates and hours to non-unionized stores in 2023.

In the current round of negotiations, before conversations stalled, workers were pushing for higher wages and increased meal allowances, among other workplace protections. Organizers hope that a ruling from the NLRB will push management back to the bargaining table.

No matter the outcome, Burgerville is among a growing cohort of United States service workers demanding better pay and working conditions. In the food sector, a few major players include Starbucks Workers United and the state of California itself, the first state to create a fast food council through its FAST Recovery Act.