March of 2022 marks the two-year anniversary of workers at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland unionizing with the Industrial Workers of the World’s Doughnut Workers United. Looking back, Voodoo Doughnut worker and DWU organizer Samantha Bryce recognizes the union’s victories, but also its determination to further improve working conditions.
When DWU was founded, one of the union’s concerns was protecting workers from physical violence.
“We were robbed by a man with a hatchet,” says Bryce. “We’ve had many individuals come in and smash things up, harass employees and threaten them physically.”
DWU was able to pressure Voodoo Doughnut to hire security, but management yet refuses to adequately address workers’ safety concerns.
“Unfortunately, the company has since cut back on the amount of time they employ safety crews,” explains Bryce. “That’s something that we definitely hope to encourage them to improve.”
Another working condition that DWU is preparing to push for improvements to is the temperature and air quality inside of the store during summer months. Last summer, a heat wave struck Portland and management did not meet the union’s demands for safety measures to protect workers from temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, as well as smoke exposure from nearby forest fires.
“We had a couple of people pass out on the shop floor while working at those temperatures,” says Bryce. “We had someone break out in hives across their whole body and people getting nosebleeds. So we did go on strike, and we brought those issues to the company and said, ‘You’re not providing anything.’ Their response was, ‘Well, we gave you wet rags!’ The company then proceeded to fire employees who refused to report to work in 115-degree temperatures, leading to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that Voodoo Doughnut management had acted unfairly.”
“We’re in a very old building with very little ventilation,” continues Bryce. “Smoke will actually get into the shop and it’ll burn our eyes, it’ll make us cough. … The company provided zero in the way of helping prevent any sort of lung issues or respiratory issues for the staff. So we, as the union, took it upon ourselves to, through friends of the union, find an allotment of KN95 masks, and we delivered those masks to each of the locations in the Portland area. Unfortunately, management took it upon themselves to throw all those masks away — in a time where the smoke was absolutely life threatening to some folks who have respiratory conditions, such as asthma. They completely disregarded their staff’s safety and prioritized union-busting over making sure that their staff was safe and healthy.”
DWU also organized a national day of action against Voodoo Doughnut. Still, according to Bryce, management has taken no apparent measures to avoid the harmful effects that may result from similar conditions this upcoming summer.
“To my knowledge, nothing has changed since last summer,” she says. “The air-conditioning system that does not provide enough relief for the staff is still the only air-conditioning system we have.”
Bryce acknowledges that issues like these aren’t limited to Voodoo Doughnut, that food service workers everywhere find themselves in similar situations. Recognizing that high turnover is one of the primary hurdles to improving working conditions at such shops, she sees a union contract as the solution.
“I’ve found over the years that the best way of kinda getting around the high turnover rate is by being there for each other,” says Bryce. “What we feel strongly about, in Doughnut Workers United, is that a contract is able to solidify those gains that we’ve got — not only for the staff that’s currently there, but the staff that’ll be there four years from now.”