A small health food store in Southeast Portland has become the staging ground for the latest battle being waged by the radical labor union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Claiming to want more responsive management, a handful of employees at the Daily Grind have moved for a union at the deli and health food store.

Over the past several months, the IWW has worked with bike messengers, restaurant employees, and social service workers. As these union struggles have unfolded, a picture of the labor world as the IWW envisions it has emerged: Not necessarily focused on higher wages, the efforts for unions at various businesses around town have set their sights on creating friendly and cozy working environments. But recent defeats and delays in votes for labor unions have thrown into question whether this is what workers really want.

Moreover, the rash of activity by the IWW has put some people on red alert. In a newsletter sent out last fall, law firm Bullivant Houser Bailey warned Portland-area employers to be on the lookout for IWW organizers.

"In addition to the IWW's particular political leanings and avowed political agendas, the methodology IWW employs during bargaining can make the process much more lengthy and time-consuming, thereby making it more costly for employers," wrote Chrys Martin, a co-author of the law firm's article. "This cost may cause small employers with limited funding--such as non-profits or co-ops--to have to use up all the funds that could go to programs or to employee salaries to negotiate with the union."

At the Daily Grind, a dispute that began before Christmas is nearing a conclusion and potentially means the first major advancement for the IWW. On New Year's Eve, a few days after Daily Grind workers filed for an election, owner Wes Perkins shut down the deli portion of the store and fired all of his deli workers. Perkins claims that the economy's downturn forced this action.

Despite the initial antagonism, more recently, both sides have settled into a conciliatory approach. Perkins has agreed to let the laid-off deli workers join in the union vote. He also has agreed to reinstate them if he decides to reopen the deli. In exchange, employees have called off a boycott, instead calling for a "buycott" to shore up business. An election is scheduled for late February.