Last December, The Industrial Workers of the World’s Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) signed their first collective bargaining agreement with management, officially becoming the only fast food restaurant in the country covered by a federally recognized contract. This historic win comes as the culmination of three-and-a-half years of heated negotiations with management, seven strikes, and dozens of major picket lines. Over 75% of workers covered by the contract participated in the vote, with 92% in favor.
The contract brings major gains to the five Portland-area stores with federal union recognition such as a grievance process, a three-month set schedule, and paid parental leave. Additionally, some improvements like free shift meals and paid holidays were won for workers at other locations of the Vancouver, WA-based fast food chain. “The part of the contract that I think that we’re all very proud of is we were effectively able to force the employer to bargain sectorally with us, so that the gains that our members got also damn near all [sic] the other shops got,” says Mark Medina, union representative, “Which means we were able to get those benefits for not just our members, but the other 1600 employees at that company, which is a benefit to everybody.”
Organizing has continued in the months since the ratification vote. Soon after signing the contract, workers petitioned the company to provide them with free KN95 masks as well as COVID-19 testing for anyone suspected to have been put at risk on the job. “And within days we got that,” stated Medina. “Shop stewards did this, workers did this, they self-mobilized and that’s a wonderful thing.”
On top of this, training and preparation for shop stewards have been underway in anticipation of the renegotiation slated for next year. “I think it’s equally instrumental to get better concessions–more things for workers to meet the needs that workers want–and to value that democratic voice,” Medina said. While negotiations are expected to begin a few months prior, the contract officially reopens on May 1 next year and workers are already preparing for the possibility of striking that day. “I would love nothing more than a quick amicable negotiation where we get what we need. But I’m not going to hold my breath for that,” says Medina.
BVWU is looking to continue expanding to other Burgerville locations, as well as building solidarity with other organizing efforts in the city. “In Portland when workers think of food service organizing they recognize our campaign and the victories of that and they want to replicate that in their workplaces,” Medina says, adding “I definitely think that we played a role in the consciousness changing that food service workers can organize and that their jobs can be dignified.”
According to Medina, the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement is one of the latest victories in a resolute campaign that shows no sign of slowing down. “This contract is just a first step. It’s just a foundation, and we’re going to build upon it,” he added. “I think workers are very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish, and I’m proud to have been on the ride with them.”