After a two-year effort, on April 22 and 23, 2018, employees at a Portland, Oregon Burgerville restaurant voted in favor of unionizing. 18 of 25 employees voted in favor of representation by The Industrial Workers of the World Portland Chapter, also known as the Burgerville Workers Union, creating the country’s first formally recognized fast-food union. The union win has caused a second Portland-area Burgerville restaurant to follow suit and file a petition to vote on union representation.
Burgerville, based in Vancouver, Washington, operates 42 restaurants and its workforce of over 16,000 people receives wages that are 20% higher than the industry average, as well as a generous benefits package. The company’s compensation package has resulted in an employee retention rate that averages 29 months, nearly double the industry standard.
High turnover has traditionally hampered the restaurant industry’s ability to unionize, but Burgerville’s above average compensation package led to a low turnover rate, which in turn allowed organizing efforts to take place over two years. While the unionization of a Burgerville restaurant may be due in part to local attitudes and politics unique to the area, the Fight For $15 movement that began in 2012 has continued to demand increased wages and the right to unionize for fast-food employees across the country.
While the fast-food industry already struggles with high labor costs, the unionization of Burgerville demonstrates that an above average compensation package may not be enough to shield employers from union activity. Non-economic issues play a critical role in employee satisfaction and ignored concerns can lead to employees seeking union representation.
In addition to wages and benefits, employees expect management to treat them fairly, with dignity and respect, and internal complaints to be taken seriously and addressed quickly. Employees want to be compensated and appreciated by their employer. Creating a work environment where employees feel valued, one that fosters communication, will increase employee satisfaction and limit their receptiveness to organization attempts.
The Union’s success in organizing Burgerville does not necessarily signify a trend in the industry, as unions have been trying to organize the restaurant industry for years and contracts remain to be negotiated. Burgerville does demonstrate to the industry that under the right conditions union efforts can succeed in the fast-food restaurant industry.