This Northwest Burger Chain's Workers Successfully Negotiated the Country's First Fast Food Union Contract

BurgerVille and its employees are expected to ratify the agreement later this year, possibly paving the way for more quick-service restaurant workers.

The Burgerville sign outside a Burgerville restaurant in West Linn, Oregon
Photo: Tada Images / Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the job market, and as demand for workers has outstripped the number of applicants in many industries, labor unions are once again a hot topic. A number of major brands — including Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Nabisco, and Kellogg's — have all dealt with high-profile strikes over the summer. And this month, efforts by some Starbucks employees to unionize have garnered national attention.

Meanwhile, workers at a small fast-food chain based in the Pacific Northwest seem poised to finish something they started back in 2018: becoming likely the first unionized workers of a fast food chain in the country.

Earlier this month, Burgerville, an approximately 40-unit burger chain based in Vancouver, Washington, announced they had finally reached a labor agreement with five Portland, Oregon locations that had voted to unionize back in 2018. Despite taking an admitted 51 negotiation sessions to reach the deal, Burgerville proclaimed that they were "the first fast food company in the nation to achieve this, a remarkable accomplishment and something we can all be very proud of."

The Burgerville Workers Union also considered the agreement a historic first. "We did it!!" the group wrote on its Facebook page on November 12. "After 7 strikes, a boycott campaign, 5 elections, hundreds of workplace actions and dozens of picketlines and citywide actions. Upon ratification we will have ended At-Will employment, ended unfair scheduling, won tips for workers that have averaged a 22$-25$ take home pay at our Lloyd center location when it was tested which will expand to all union shops within 30 days of ratification, and so much more. In addition throughout bargaining the company has conceded and unilaterally applied many of our major demands like free shift meals, 1$ wage increase after our strike in October 2019, 5 paid holidays and in store tipping system."

The contract still has to be ratified and approved by both sides, but is reportedly expected to be overwhelmingly approved by union members and could take effect by the end of this year.

Speaking with Nation's Restaurant News late last week, Hillary Barbour, director of strategic initiatives at Burgerville, struck a positive tone. "We found common ground in a number of places which makes for a better relationship between employer and union," she was quoted as saying. "It was new territory for the union and new territory for us… It'll be interesting to see whether this [union contract] has an influence on the industry."

Barbour also said she hoped that that working with the union could help Burgerville fill gaps in their own labor shortage.

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