Tyler Gross

On Tuesday, Burgerville employees at the fast food chain's SE Hawthorne and 11th location held an election to decide whether or not their store would join the Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU). Like the two other Burgerville stores that have already voted on this, employees chose to join the burgeoning union.

But, unlike in those past elections, the vote was uncomfortably close: 13 to 9. BVWU members say Burgerville's increasing hostility toward the union explains this vote.

"A main difference between this election and the two previous was the decidedly more pernicious tone and content of Burgerville's anti-union campaign that, to be entirely frank, disturbed us," said Emmett Schlenz, a BVWU spokesperson.

Five days before the Hawthorne store held a vote, Burgerville sent an email to all store employees warning them of the negative consequences that could come with unionizing. Employees were told that BVWU wasn't actually looking out for employees' rights and suggested that union members had repeatedly lied.

"Before voting, consider the following questions: How are you going to be represented if the union does not agree with you?" the email reads. "Who is representing you and what is their commitment to Burgerville? To you?"

"With this vote, you will be deciding whether you will represent yourself or pay someone else to do it for you," the email continued. "You're an individual. You know your needs. You are the best person to engage directly with Burgerville about your needs."

Burgerville Workers Union

The company's messaging falls directly in line with conservative-leaning "right to work" policies, which undermine union organizing efforts—and nearly always guarantee lower wages, fewer benefits, and scant legal protections for employees. At least 27 states currently have laws upholding "right to work" laws. Oregon is not one of them.

This isn't the first time Burgerville has come to a head with its union. Burgerville has resisted the union since its creation, exhibited perhaps best by the company's refusal to voluntarily accept stores' requests to unionize (rather than force a storewide vote). Despite this pushback, BVWU successfully became the country's first federally-recognized fast food union, a feat that Burgerville scrambled to applaud in a full-page Oregonian ad after the fact. The two already-unionized stores—one at SE 92nd and Powell, the other in Gladstone—have faced their own pushback from management, whether it's in the form of a button ban or, according to some allegations, firing.

Schlenz says this latest attempt to discount the union speaks to Burgerville's politics.

"Oregonians have consistently rejected 'right to work,'" he told the Mercury. "We find it worrisome that Burgerville has decided to line up behind the Trump agenda at the same time as spending countless dollars in advertising to brand itself as 'progressive.'"

The BVWU is asking for a $5 per hour raise for all staff and equitable health insurance. According to Schlenz, the company has "yet to respond to any economic proposals put forth by the union." To protest this inaction and the thinly veiled union-busting, BVWU will hold a rally out front of the Hawthorne Burgerville next Monday, Dec. 17 at 6 pm.