Burgerville's new ban on employees wearing buttons on their uniforms—specifically "Black Lives Matter" and "No One is Illegal" buttons—went into effect this morning. In response, the employee-led Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) has filed a number of Unfair Labor Practice complaints against the company for, essentially, lying to their employee union at the bargaining table.
This rule follows weeks of back-and-forth between the BVWU and Burgerville officials—who are currently in the midst of contract negotiations. It began on August 22, when ten Burgerville employees at the Northeast Glisan and 82nd Avenue restaurant were sent home from work after they refused to remove buttons from their uniforms reading "Abolish ICE," "Black Lives Matter," and "No One Is Illegal." It's the same location called out for what BVWU saw as "retaliatory firings" in June.
Quick public backlash, however, prompted Burgerville to rescind this new policy a day later, and pay all ten employees for the cut hours. Burgerville announced it would be instead be rolling out a new policy prohibiting button-wearing, "one that represents our long-standing commitment to creating a universally welcoming and inclusive environment for our customers and employees alike." This new policy goes into effect today.
The employee union has spent nearly two years pushing Burgerville to acknowledge BVWU's existence, let alone meet them at the bargaining table to discuss the need for a living wage, health care benefits for all, and a fairer scheduling process. Only in April did Burgerville formally recognize the union after a vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), making BVWU the first federally recognized fast food chain in the country.
BVWU members say the decision clearly exhibits where corporate's allegiances lie: In patrons uncomfortable with inclusive (yet inexplicably partisan) messages.
"When it came time to choose sides, Burgerville corporate sided with those who deny that Black Lives Matter and who support racism in all its many forms," wrote Emmett Schlenz, a BVWU spokesperson, in a Friday press release. "Burgerville’s motto is 'serve with love.' The union asks who do they serve - white supremacists or its anti-racist workers?"
What's more, the new policy goes directly against agreements made between the BVWU and Burgerville staff during contract negotiations, according to BVWU spokesperson Forrest Arnold. Arnold was one of the ten workers sent home from the Northeast Glisan location for wearing a button last month.
Arnold says that during these bargaining discussions, BVWU representatives offered to collaborate with Burgerville on creating a new button policy that would satisfy both parties.
"They agreed to work together," Arnold says. "And then they did this... making the decision unilaterally without consulting anyone."
That's why the BVWU has submitted no less than three Unfair Labor Practice complaints (ULPs) to the NLRB about their employer. The complaints blame the company for making "unlawful unilateral changes to working conditions" during the bargaining process and "bargaining in bad faith" by breaking the button policy commitment made at the bargaining table.
In an email to the Mercury, Burgerville spokesperson Deborah Pleva said the company shared the final policy with employees on September 6 after "seeking out input and feedback from employees... and considering the thoughtful feedback we received from our customers."
Arnold says BVWU members will continue to submit ULPs every time they are told to remove a button. And wait. He says it could take months for the NLRB to respond to these complaints and, thanks to past litigation, it's difficult to guess exactly what that response will look like.
"The case law on what union propaganda is allowed in a workplace and approved by NLRB is pretty varying across labor law history," Arnold says. "We don’t know for sure which buttons are legally protected and which are not. We're filing ULPs to set a new precedent."
Arnold isn't scheduled to work today. But he plans on wearing his buttons when he shows up to work tomorrow.
"What's important is that when I go into work tomorrow wearing my Black Lives Matter button, my manager will ask me to take it off," he says. "[The button's message] is a working condition I am demanding of my workplace that I don't see being respected at my workplace. So, I won't take it off."