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Burgerville Workers’ Lessons For Independent Unions

Self-organizing a union on a shoestring? Winning the supposedly unwinnable? Workers at a local burger chain out of Portland, Oregon, were doing it before it was cool. The Burgerville Workers Union, which went public in 2016 and won its first contract in 2021, has recently been influencing and supporting independent union efforts in the region—and it has a few lessons to offer independent unions around the country. While the union is affiliated with the Portland branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, it operates largely autonomously. “What workers want is to form a union, not necessarily join a union,” asserts founding member Luis Brennan. BVWU’s intensive member-organizer training and member-led organizing, use of direct action inside the shop, and creative community events in the streets have become more common with recent independent union drives—like those at Amazon, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle, and the high-end supermarket chain New Seasons.

Burgerville’s Union Racking Up Victories On Shop Floor

Last December, The Industrial Workers of the World’s Burgerville Workers Union 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.
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