Burger Joint Becomes First Unionized Fast-Food Restaurant

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 7, 2018

For the first time in the US, a fast-food restaurant has been unionized through a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) supervised election. Employees at Burgerville in Portland, Oregon, recently voted 18-4 for the Burgerville Worker's Union (BVWU) to be their exclusive bargaining representative. The new union is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World.

The employees formed a union two years ago in an attempt to get Burgerville to discuss pay hikes and improved working conditions. A union spokesperson said that most of the burger chain's 1500 employees earn slightly above the Portland minimum wage of $11.25 per hour. Efforts to get the company to address the union's demands included a strike, protests and a boycott.

But the corporation refused to voluntarily recognize the group until it held a vote under the auspices of the NLRB. Burgerville, a regional fast-food chain with 42 locations in Oregon and Washington, now is required by federal law to recognize and bargain with the union formed by store employees.

The union is seeking a $5 per hour raise, affordable health insurance, more reliable scheduling and a discontinuation on the "E-Verify" program used to validate job applicants' right to work in the US.

Burgerville will support its workers' decision, said corporate spokesperson Beth Brewer. "We will navigate this new working relationship together in a positive, productive way and bargain in good faith with the union," Brewer said.

Since the election, the employees at the Burgerville store in Gladstone, Oregon, have announced that they also will be holding an NLRB election this month. The company has waived an NLRB hearing, and said it will support an election at the second location.