After winning drive-through tipping in select stores, unionized workers at Burgerville are now pushing the Vancouver, Washington-based fast-food chain to extend the practice to all locations. The Burgerville Workers Union is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World.
Workers at Burgerville began agitating for the collection of tips from customers via the drive-through last year, when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic severely reduced the number of — or altogether eliminated — walk-in customers. In response, management agreed to implement drive-through tipping at five locations on a trial basis.
“We got the company to agree to facilitate tipping, which was a huge victory and changed the job in a lot of ways,” says Luis Brennan, a Burgerville worker and union member.
“It has increased our wages by a lot,” says Emily Stanmore, another worker and union member. “It’s helpling a lot of the crew, especially since we didn’t get hazard pay throughout the pandemic.”
The Burgerville Workers Union is now pushing management to extend drive-through tipping to all of its 37 locations, which are clustered around Vancouver and Portland, Oregon. If they are successful, it will be the latest victory for the union.
Prior to the formation of the Burgerville Workers Union, working conditions at the chain were similar to those in other fast-food restaurants, marked by low wages and unpredictable schedules. With the support of the Portland IWW, workers announced their union in 2016 and won a union election two years later — making them the first fast-food union to do so in US history.
Since then, the Burgerville Workers Union has also won workers free shift meals and a looser dress code policy. While Brennan and Stanmore acknowledge that some of their victories might seem like small concessions, the wins amount to greater dignity for workers in workplaces that are otherwise notoriously degrading. They point to such incremental improvements as paving the way for greater benefits, like drive-through tipping, and hope to see similar changes at other fast-food restaurants.
“It’s a better job than it used to be,” says Brennan. “That’s something that other fast-food workers can see happen.”
Update: On November 12, 2021 workers at Burgerville reached a tentative agreement with the company which, upon ratification, would make them the only fast food workers covered by such a Collective Agreement in the United States.