Burgerville employees at the 92nd and Powell shop.
Burgerville employees at the 92nd and Powell shop. Burgerville Workers Union

Shortly after employees at Portland's Burgerville store #41 on SE 92nd and Powell voted to become the fast food chain's first federally-recognized union, several (if not all) Portland Burgerville locations held all-staff meetings with Burgerville HR staff.

Forrest Arnold, an employee at Burgerville store #4 (the first Burgerville opened in Oregon!) at NE 82nd and Glisan in Montavilla neighborhood, recalls the inescapable tension in the room when his store held its meeting.

In the weeks leading up to the meeting, his store manager had fired three of his coworkers for inexplicably mundane reasons: one for taking a single french fry out of the fryer and eating it (something, Arnold says, "everyone does"), another for adding hazelnuts to his order (which customers get free of charge), and another for eating a leftover piece of bacon that was going to be thrown away. The last firing came the same day a group of store employees announced they'd be joining the Burgerville Workers Union.

These firings all followed the arrival of a new store manager—and had left employee morale incredibly low.

Arnold says during the meeting, the HR spokesperson explained that the Montavilla store had been doing well financially, and asked employees why they think that was the case.

No one answered. But after a long pause, according to Arnold, his coworker Matt spoke up from the back of the room. "It's fear!" Arnold recalls Matt responding. "He was like, 'We're afraid to mess up and get fired. You have created a culture of fear."

"That opened the floodgates," Arnold says. The rest of the meeting was filled with employee complaints and concerns, all corroborating Matt's call-out.

Two weeks later, Matt was fired.

According to Arnold, management said Matt was fired for dropping a headset and damaging company property. Arnold's coworkers disagree. Whether it's union retaliation or just poor management, the Burgerville #4 employees are tired of sitting back and letting their coworkers get fired over seemingly insignificant mistakes.

That's why this evening, Arnold and his fellow employees will hold a protest in front of their workplace, hoping to illuminate their concerns.

"We want them to know we're going to raise hell every single time they fire someone for a bullshit reason," Arnold says. The store will remain open during the 5 pm protest.

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For Arnold, the worst part about all of this is the hypocrisy he sees in Burgerville.

He mentions the full-page ad Burgerville ran in the Oregonian after the first union win, which commended its employees' hard work—despite fighting the union behind the scenes.

"The fact they say 'we care about our workers' but then go and fire them over nothing. It feels like they're lying to us," Arnold says. "It feels like they're lying to Portland."