People of color working at the Oregon Convention Center Burgerville location are lobbying to have their store manager removed for his allegedly racist actions.
On July 15, Burgerville Workers United—the union representing the chain's staff—filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) signed by almost all workers of color at the Convention Center store alleging racist harassment from the store's general manager. The manager has only worked at the Burgerville location for four months, yet workers say he quickly created a "hostile environment" with the way he treats his employees of color. Workers say they've made complaints about his actions, yet have seen no improvement—which is why they are motivated to alert the NLRB.
According to a union press release, the petition was inspired after an incident earlier this month involving a Black employee named Arieanna. On July 5, Arieanna allegedly came to the defense of another coworker of color who was being mocked by an irate customer. This action only caused the customer to become more angry and threatening toward both employees of color. The store manager allegedly witnessed the entire incident, and didn't intervene for what felt like an irresponsible amount of time.
According to Arieanna's coworker Nora, who she spoke with after the incident, it was a traumatizing experience. The impact was compounded by the fact that this manager had allegedly made racist comments about her and Black customers previously.
"She said how wildly unsafe she felt," said Nora, recounting the conversation. "She didn’t trust coming in to work the next day. "
Arieanna was placed on leave after the encounter and ultimately fired on July 18.
"When put in a hostile, unsafe, violent workplace, it’s impossible to make the right decisions," said Arieanna in the press release. "I felt like I was set up to fail."
The union has filed a grievance against Burgerville, alleging that Arieanna was put in an unsafe workplace.
Another Black worker named Mack alleged he had been retaliated against by this same manager, after being fired for taking several days off to help his wife during a medical emergency in June. Workers believe the manager has different workplace expectations for staff based on their race.
"He has a different, lower amount of patience, sympathy for Black and brown staff than for white staff," said one staff member at the Convention Center store, who is not identified in the press release.
Store workers are calling both for Burgerville to re-hire Arieanna and fire the Convention Center store's manager. Burgerville's corporate office did not respond to the Mercury's request for comment on the demands.
This isn't the first time this store's location has been accused of retaliating against its staff. In March 2019, shortly after the Convention Center store workers filed to join the Burgerville Workers Union, managers suspended two staffers, fired one worker, and handed out dozens of smaller penalties against employees. Since 2018, five local Burgerville stores have voted to join the union, which is the first fast-food union to be federally recognized in the country.