Little Big Burger employees wanting to unionize are taking issue with the potential terms of a union vote that could happen as early as next week. It might sound counterintuitive to Little Big Union's (LBU) mission—but organizers say the vote, arranged by the company, is an attempt to quash their burgeoning union before it gets off the ground.

Little Big Burger employees announced they were beginning the process of unionizing in March, fighting for higher wages, better working conditions, and to do away with the company’s “at-will” firing policy. But Little Big Burger’s parent company, Chanticleer Holdings, Inc., refused to voluntarily recognize the union, forcing negotiations into a standstill. Since then, Chanticleer—which owns a number of restaurant chains across the US—has reportedly engaged in several classic anti-union tactics, even going so far as to fire an employee who went on strike.

It might come as a surprise, then, that Chanticleer recently filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), asking that workers at all 13 Oregon Little Big Burger locations vote on unionization next week. It’s rare for companies, rather than organizing workers, to petition the NLRB for a union vote—in fact, only 50 US companies did so in 2018—and LBU organizers suspect that this is an attempt on Chanticleer’s part to force a losing vote.

They point to Chanticleer’s insistence on having all Oregon locations vote in one week—including locations as far away as Eugene, where the Portland-based LBU has yet to establish a presence—as an example of the company’s bad faith. They also say that the timing of the votes (from 3 to 5 pm next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) is an inconvenient window for many employees working the dinner rush. To make matters worse, Chanticleer’s proposed timing happens to coincide with finals week at Portland State University, where many Little Big Burger workers are students.

“These are hardly the terms of a good-faith election,” said employee Geran Wales in a LBU press release sent out Monday morning. “I would hope that when a NLRB election does occur, that it does so under conditions that would allow for and encourage mass participation.”

In a email sent to the Mercury, Chanticleer Regional Vice President Adrian Oca said the dates and times suggested for a union vote fit the parameters set forth in NLRB's voting guide. He also said Chanticleer's reasoning for requesting a vote is simple: LBU has yet to petition for a vote, so Chanticleer did it for them.

"We did so because we believed that was the most efficient way to get our employees a free, fair election," Oca wrote. "Unlike LBU, which is funded by outsiders and led by insurgents who bounce from employer to employer in order to create unrest, Little Big Burger takes into account the needs and wishes of all of our associates. Since LBU first appeared in March of this year, it has accomplished very little but causing unrest among our team members, who have been very clear in asking that we please resolve this as soon as possible."

The NLRB will hold a hearing in Portland this Friday, June 7, to consider Chanticleer’s petition. LBU plans to contest Chanticleer’s proposed dates during the hearing, and will counter with days and times meant to encourage high employee participation.

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Portland law firm McKanna Bishop Joffe (MBJ) will represent the union during the hearing. In a motion to postpone the hearing, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday, MBJ attorney Noah Warman called Chanticleer’s petition for a vote “novel,” noting that even in the rare cases when companies do ask for a union vote, the circumstances are usually quite different than the case at hand:

“[O]rdinarily such petitions are filed where an incumbent union’s majority support is at issue – i.e., where there is a history of bargaining, an established collective bargaining relationship, and a clear and pre-existing bargaining unit. … [In this case] there is no agreed-upon established bargaining unit and certainly no history of collective bargaining between these parties.”

Editor's note: Language in this article, including the headline, has been edited to better reflect Little Big Union's stance on the potential union vote.