YOUNG fast food workers in Portland, Oregon, USA, who are fighting for a $5 an hour rise above the US state’s minimum wage and union recognition, have launched a ‘Boycott Burgerville’ campaign.
The Oregon minimum wage is just $10.25 an hour. The formation of the Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU), in 2016, came as a pleasant surprise to everyone except Burgerville’s upper management team. The demands coming from the union are reasonable.
They want a $5 an hour raise (from the minimum wage, which they consider a starving wage,) across the board, they want affordable healthcare, provided by the company, but above all else, they want communication with the upper management team, and to be recognised as a formal union. Burgerville workers were ignored for almost two years, so they kicked things into overdrive.
After a three-day strike consisting of employees from multiple stores, they are now asking the general public to boycott all 44 of the company’s stores, across the Pacific North West. The timing couldn’t be better. The NW Labour Press illustrates the antagonistic environment workers are organising under:
‘The union says as many as six pro-union workers have been terminated by the company on trivial pretexts. ‘The most recent was Canaan Schlesinger, fired January 31st from the MLK store less than two months after he was hired. ‘The official reason: Theft, for having put a dollop of Soft Serve ice cream in his coffee instead of cream. The real reason, he says: “They identified me as a union agitator”.’
This appears paradoxical when their advertising for the Sound Food Uprising Summit 2018, has this to say about Jill Taylor, the company’s CEO: ‘As CEO of Burgerville, Jill Taylor brings a holistic view of food to the company, one that includes the health of the region’s soils, farms, and people. Jill is committed to empowering Burgerville and its partners in service of the company’s mission “Serve with Love” to positively impact social change in the Pacific Northwest.’
Furthermore, according to Stefan Stackhouse, a union organiser, last week at a food justice conference in Seattle, a number of BVWU supporters attempted to question Burgerville CEO Jill Taylor on her stance regarding the union’s activity. She refused to comment.
Burgerville employees maintain a clear mantra, that ‘this is not personal’, and they refuse to allow the management to persuade them into believing it is, through guilt-tripping or any other tactics.
When asked about his time working for Burgerville, Portland Community College student, Felix Graham said: ‘I worked there a couple of years ago and only made 25 cents above the minimum wage. ‘Management was a mess all the way up the chain, I even saw managers bullying other managers.’
Many local progressive and community organisations such as: The Community Alliance of Tenants, Jobs with Justice, Portland Tenants United, SEIU, Portland chapter of the IWW, etc. have turned out to support BVWU in their fight for a decent wage and a union. Many of these members of the community have been on the picket line alongside BVWU workers. Portland Community College student Dom Belcastro, as a representative of the Community Alliance of Tenants spoke at the BVWU’s recent rally at the Convention Centre Location.
He had this to say: ‘I am a renter, a former fast food worker. ‘This struggle is righteous, it is necessary, and what we want is a strong union that brings back the dignity we often have to give up to gain a job.’ In the days since the boycott was announced there was yet another retaliation by the Burgerville management.
On Valentine’s Day a worker of colour (the third in a string of recent retaliations) was suspended under the hyperbolic claim of theft. The union is considering this a direct act of racism and they point to Burgerville’s all-white management as evidence.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Harvad students have been protesting against the sacking of a union rep. Wielding picket signs saying ‘No racism at Harvard’ and chanting ‘reinstate Mayli’, around 40 students and workers gathered outside the Smith Campus Centre last Thursday to protest at the recent termination of Mayli Shing, a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW). Shing, a former employee in payroll and finance at University Health Services, lost her job on February 6th.
According to HUCTW representative Geoffrey Carens, the goal of Thursday’s picket was to convince the University to reverse Shing’s termination, which demonstrators said they believed formed an act of retaliation in response to grievances she expressed at work.
Carens said: ‘We want Mayli to be reinstated in a new job with a new supervisor—a full-time job, at least comparable to her previous position, with all the discipline removed from her file.’
According to a Facebook post announcing the picket, some of the concerns Shing expressed included claims related to workplace racism and sexual harassment. The Harvard No Layoffs Campaign – a caucus of rank-and-file HUCTW members and allies – and the Student Labour Action Movement, a pro-labour undergraduate advocacy group, jointly organised the picket.
Demonstrators handed out fliers to Massachusetts Avenue pedestrians explaining Shing’s situation and urging them to contact the University in protest. Carens said they estimate protesters reached about 300 passing pedestrians via this strategy.
For an hour last Thursday afternoon, picketers marched in circles in Harvard Square, chanting slogans like, ‘Harvard workers under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back!’ and ‘Hey Harvard, you should know, discrimination’s got to go!’ The event also received support from other labour groups on campus.
Members of the Harvard University Dining Services union attended, as did representatives from 32BJ SEIU, the regional union that represents Harvard’s janitors, as well as individuals involved in the campaign to defend Harvard workers with Temporary Protected Status. Undergraduates held signs alongside union members to support Shing.
One participant, Noah R. Wagner. 18, wrote that he thinks the University’s decision to fire Shing is ‘inexcusable and unacceptable.’ He told the student newspaper: ‘I stand with Mayli as she continues to fight for dignity, respect, and her livelihood, and the Harvard administration should know that students and workers from across our community stand with her too.’
Earlier this month, HUCTW announced to its members: ‘The start of 2018 also marks the start of a new round of contract negotiations between Harvard and HUCTW! ‘As most of you know, these important negotiations determine our salary increases, any benefit changes, and other key policies and programmes for the next several years. ‘Our current contract with Harvard expires on September 30th, 2018, so now is the time to start planning for a new round of talks.’
The union has been holding a series of lunchtime meetings as part of its campaign. Over the past few years it held marches and rallies against library staff layoffs.