Unionizing Burgerville: workers of the world unite…then quit.

Time passes. Things change.

That’s certainly been the case at Burgerville, where workers at the company’s restaurant at 3504 SE 92nd Ave. in Portland voted 18-4 in April 2018 to form a union.


Over the next 12 months, employees at four more Burgerville sites followed suit:

May 13, 2018: 19119 SE McLoughlin Blvd. site – 17 yes, 5 no

Dec. 11, 2018: 1122 SE Hawthorne Blvd. site –  13 yes; 9 no

April 3, 2019: 8218 NE Glisan St. site – 15 yes, 9 no

April 4-5, 2019: 1135 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. site – 14 yes, 7 no

Adding it all up, 111 Burgerville employees at a total of five locations have voted on whether to form a union.

Burgerville says it hasn’t kept track of which specific employees participated in the union votes, so it can’t quantify how many of the 111 voters are still employed by the company. It has determined, however, that of the 142 employees who were working in the five unionized locations during their respective votes, only 94 of them, or 66%, are still employed at Burgerville.

Furthermore, the lead organizers of the unionizing effort at three of the five restaurants no longer work at Burgerville. Two resigned their positions less than one month following their locations’ votes and a third organizer just resigned.

The fast-food industry is currently grappling with record employee turnover. According to MIT Technology Review, the turnover rate in the fast-food industry is 150%. In other words, the typical fast food restaurant is seeing its entire workforce, plus half of its new hires, replaced in 12 months.

Burgerville is doing better, perhaps because of its expansive benefits, including health insurance, vacation pay and financial wellness training. Still, the annual turnover rate across its 42 restaurants in 2018 was 83% (up from 71% in 2017), according to the company.

What all this means is:

  • Three of the five union organizers are no longer working at Burgerville.
  • A significant share of all the Burgerville employees who voted in the five union elections since April 2018 are likely not still working at the company.
  • It is highly likely that few of the 142 employees who were working at the five unionized locations during their respective votes will still be employed at Burgerville 12 months from now.
  • Few of the employees at the five Burgerville locations 12 months from now will have participated in the original votes to unionize.

Why, then, should the employees at the five locations one year from now be forced to be members of a union?

Unfortunately, future employees at the five Burgerville  restaurants probably won’t be given an opportunity to vote on whether to be represented by a union and, if so, which one.

One option to address this situation could be automatic representation elections whenever employee turnover by a bargaining unit over time exceeds a certain percentage. A bill introduced in Congress in 2017 (H.R. 2763 – Employee Rights Act) proposed 50 percent be the trigger.

Another possible solution, suggested by both Samuel Estreicher, a Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, and Michael Oswalt, an Associate Professor of Law at the Northern Illinois University College of Law, is regularly scheduled union representation elections the same way we regularly schedule political elections.

Estreicher, who called his proposal “easy in, easy out,” suggested that every two or three years the employees in a unit, after an initial minimal required showing of interest, would have an opportunity to vote in a secret ballot whether they wish to continue the union’s representation, select another organization, or have no union representation at all.

Oswalt argued that regularly scheduled union representation elections would be better than the simple continuation of the status quo.

“…workplace culture would slowly shift, creating an atmosphere where workers would feel internal pressure to, at the very least, think about the ramifications of selecting or not selecting a bargaining agent,” Oswalt wrote.

That would  be a good thing for Burgerville workers.












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