I’m Forming a Burgerville Union Because I’m Barely Getting By

by Eli Fishel
Reprinted from Street Roots

I believe that everyone working, 30 to 40 hours a week especially, should be making enough to live, at the very least. They should also be making enough to move forward in their lives.

My name is Eli Fishel, I’m 18 years old, and I’m a fast food worker. When I was 16, I worked at Chuck E Cheese’s, and I was living with my parents. When I was 17, my living situation was not safe anymore, so I moved with four roommates into an apartment.  

My monthly living expenses were probably $600 after all my bills, including groceries. In May 2015 I got a job at Burgerville. They paid me about $600 a month. For the first couple months I also worked for Chuck E Cheese’s. 

At Burgerville I was making $9.47 an hour, and getting 30 hours a week. I got a 10-cents- an-hour raise in December, right before minimum wage was supposed to go up. That’s the only raise I’ve gotten. There is a review and raise process. You have to be working there six months, and 30 hours a week, to get healthcare. 

I was not able to pay my bills with my Burgerville income. So I started also babysitting for my extended family after school. I’m not working 30 hours a week at Burgerville anymore because I’m actually making more money babysitting. 

I was in high school. I graduated last year. My plans are to go to Clark Community College. But, I have not had the time or the money to think about that yet. 

I’m a member of the Burgerville Workers Union. Our vision is a $5/hour raise for all hourly workers, health care benefits for all workers, and fair and consistent scheduling. We also want a more sustainable workplace. There are things we need in order to work; things like childcare and help with transit. We have hundreds of people who are busing to work.

The BVWU is by and for Burgerville workers. Everyone in it and everything about it is being decided upon by Burgerville workers. It’s a democratic organization. 

I need a raise now. The cost of living is going up, and I don’t know if I can make it from paycheck to paycheck. The minimum wage legislation is great, but $15 in five years is too long for me to wait. So my co-workers and I are coming together to do something about our situation now. The BVWU vision is that all hourly workers get a $5-an- hour raise starting immediately. This is fair. This is what I need to survive and build a life for myself. Without a raise, I don’t know what will happen –  if I’ll ever be able to go to school, if I’ll ever not be living on the edge, or even if I’ll be able to keep my apartment.

I want to make enough to live. 

A raise is very important, but the workers in the union also have a vision for change. The most important part of this is that we are standing together, realizing that we’re not alone, and that we can work together.

I hope the BVWU inspires other workers. The organizing and standing together that we’ve done to fight for some power in the system that’s built against the working people can be done in other places as well.
Learn more at www.burgervilleworkersunion.org/

Eli works at Burgerville at the Vancouver Plaza. She is a leader in the Burgerville Workers Union and helped launch the union on April 26, 2016.

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Burgerville Workers Union

Burgerville Workers Unite!

Portland, OR – In a historic move, workers at Portland-area fast food chain Burgerville announced at a rally in the Clinton Street Theater on April 26th that they were forming a union, the Burgerville Workers Union, in affiliation with the Portland branch of the IWW. They marched from the theater to the Burgerville location at Southeast 26th and Clinton to present their demands:

  • an immediate $5 an hour raise
  • affordable, quality healthcare
  • a safe and healthy workplace
  • fair and consistent scheduling with ample notice
  • a supportive, sustainable workplace including paid maternity/paternity leave
  • free childcare and transportation stipends

A typical Burgerville worker makes only $9.60 an hour, and is typically scheduled just 26 hours a week, just under the 30 hours a week which would make them eligible to receive benefits. That equals out to about $990 a month before taxes. To put that into perspective, the average apartment rent in Portland is $1,275 a month for a one bedroom apartment, and most apartment complexes require prospective tenants income to exceed 3 times the amount of the rent.

“Most people can’t even afford to have an apartment. In Portland, everyone knows that the cost of living is insane. It basically took me a second job to be able to have a place of my own. I couldn’t afford it with what Burgerville pays me,” said Greg, Burgerville worker and union member.

Other workers cited problems with management’s uncaring attitude toward their employees: “I need to be able to take a sick day without fear of retaliation,” stated Robert, a Burgerville worker at the Powell location.

The workers forming the Burgerville Workers Union represent a cross-section of the community – young people, seniors, mothers, fathers, students, and grandparents. They put passion into their work, and want to improve their workplaces for themselves, their co-workers, and the community.

“We’re trying to make Burgerville a better place – I just want to be able to do my job and be paid a living wage. This is going to make Burgerville better, by having happy employees that work hard and are proud of their jobs” said Debbie, Burgerville Worker Union member.

The Burgerville Workers Union is supported by the Portland IWW and endorsed by a coalition of local unions and community groups, including ILWU Local 5, IATSE Local 28, SEIU Local 49, Portland Association of Teachers, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Portland Solidarity Network (PDXSol), Portland Jobs with Justice, Blue Heron Collective (Reed College), Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, Alberta Cooperative Grocery Collective Management, Hella 503 Collective, Marilyn Buck Abolitionist Collective and People’s Food Co-op.

To lend your support and solidarity, check out the Burgerville Workers Union website.


Our monthly Worker Wednesday event is coming up on Wednesday, March 30! This is an opportunity to meet some Wobblies and other workers, drink beer OR root beer, talk about campaigns & union stuff, and get to know each other. Children are welcome until 9:00pm, so no need to call the sitter.

We’ll hold the fort at the Lucky Lab Brew Pub (SE 9th & Hawthorne) from 6 to 10pm. We’ll see you there!

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Graduate Employees Union at Portland State University

Solidarity with PSU graduate student workers!

There’s a new union campaign in town at Portland State University.

Graduate Employees Union at Portland State University

On Monday, Feb. 1, there was a lively march to the university administration building, where workers presented a demand letter to the university president.

After reading out testimony and a list of demands, workers informed the president that they expect his signature on their letter of agreement by February 15. The president tried to engage workers in a dialogue, but everyone held their ground saying there was nothing to talk about until after the university recognizes and begins bargaining with the union. Chanting, “We’ll be back!”, the workers left the building in unison.

Be sure to stay tuned for more actions and rallies to support these workers!


Support Farm Workers in NW Washington – Boycott Sakuma Berries

May 6, 2015

Fellow Workers,

The Whatcom-Skagit general membership branch of the Industrial Workers of the World is urging everyone to join us in a boycott campaign in support of farm workers of the Familias Unidias por la Justicia (FUJ) union in NW Washington.

For decades now, the farm workers at Sakuma Brothers berry farm in Skagit County have endured inadequate housing, systematic wage theft, and racist abuse from supervisors, among many other problems. In the summer of 2013, the farm workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms went on strike and formed a union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, of over 450 indigenous Triqui and Mixteco berry pickers. After a series of strikes there was a written agreement between Sakuma and FUJ. However, Sakuma reneged on their word to the workers. After Sakuma broke promises they made during a negotiation session, the farm workers of Familias Unidas por la Justicia voted to endorse a public boycott of Sakuma, Driscoll’s berries and Haagen-Dazs ice cream (both are major buyers/packers of Sakuma berries) until the labor dispute is resolved and the workers have a contract recognizing their union.

The workers want a fair wage, health insurance, and respect on the job. In court, Familias Unidas has been recognized as a union with the right to organize and represent workers collectively. They have won landmark victories, including a settlement in which workers were collectively paid $500,000 in back wages and two rulings preventing Sakuma from changing their housing and hiring policies illegitimately. On the farm itself they have won several gains, such as the ability to take lunch breaks. However, these gains on the farm are now slipping as they have in the past. On February 3rd a farm workers tribunal took place in Olympia and members of FUJ spoke to state legislators about wage theft and working conditions at Sakuma Brothers Farm. The tribunal is an independent hearing by community judges that examines and provides judgments relative to human rights, labor rights, and civil rights abuses and the rights of peoples. The Farmworker Tribunal seeks to document and expose violations of state laws, civil rights, labor rights and human rights in Washington State’s Agricultural Industries. On March 17th in Toppenish the Washington State Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case (Demetrio et al. v. Sakuma Brothers Farms). This case will decide whether farm workers who are paid piece rate should also be compensated for rest breaks, as are wage workers in Washington State. The decision in this case will impact all Washington farm workers.

The farm workers at Sakuma are fighting against injustice on behalf of farm workers everywhere. We are reaching out to IWW branches to actively support these workers. Some ways that your group can support the farm workers is by promoting the boycott, picket stores that carry Driscoll’s, Haagen-Dazs and Sakuma Berry products, and supporting other groups’ boycott activities in your communities. The struggle of Families Unidas por la Justicia for dignity and justice in their workplace continues and it falls on everyone’s shoulders to support the people whose labor sustains us.

Whatcom-Skagit GMB, IWW
Contact Info:
Email: iwwbellingham@gmail.com
Facebook: Whatcom-Skagit IWW

For more info about Familias Unidias por la Justicia:
Boycott Sakuma Berries website

“Court case could drastically change the way growers pay piece-rate during rest breaks”

Formation of FUJ, first strikes, and connections with IWW history (page 5):

Update (page 7):

About the Boycott (page 5):

Some Facts About the Labor Dispute At Sakuma:

  • Familias Unidas Por La Justicia is a farmworkers’ union of over 450 indigenous Triqui and Mixteco farmworkers. It formed out of a series of strikes which began on July 11, 2013, after a worker at Sakuma Brothers was fired for demanding a higher piece rate. There were six strikes in total that year.
  • During 2013 strikes, the strike committee issued a list of 14 grievances/demands. On the list were: a higher piece rate which would enable workers to earn the minimum wage; to cease using electronic scanners which led to workers not being paid wages they were owed; to be paid overtime per state and federal law; an end to practices which violate the Civil Rights Act and state laws against harassment and hostile work environments; and respect for indigenous Triqui and Mixteco farmworkers, who allege that they are routinely called by racist slurs and treated with disrespect.
  • During negotiations with Familias Unidas, Sakuma promised that there would be no reprisals against workers who went on strike and that a new piece rate would be set through a collaborative process involving farmworkers. However, after these assurances were given, Sakuma sent private security forces to the workers’ labor camps and followed them on public marches, which a judge ruled was a violation of Washington State labor law, and Sakuma refused to pay the piece rate they had agreed on with Familias Unidas. It was not until after Sakuma broke their promises and ended negotiations that the workers, through Familias Unidas, called for a consumer boycott of Sakuma products.
  • Last year, Sakuma applied for 438 guest workers under the H-2A program, claiming that sufficient local labor was unavailable (the only legal reason to apply for guest workers under H-2A). However, the more than 450 farmworker families who joined Familias Unidas last year had all been clear about their intent to re-apply and delivered signed letters to this effect in order to demonstrate that Sakuma had not looked for local labor before applying for guest workers. The Department of Labor found Sakuma’s application to be deficient in multiple regards, and Sakuma ultimately withdrew the application. We contend that Sakuma could not reasonably have believed that there was a real shortage of labor given the circumstances.
  • In 2014, Sakuma settled a lawsuit over allegations of wage theft and that Sakuma had denied workers breaks, agreeing to pay $500,000 to workers.
  • A Skagit County judge found that Sakuma was retaliating against organizing workers by telling workers that they were ineligible to be re-hired for having missed five consecutive days − after the workers had gone on strike for six consecutive days. The judge ordered Sakuma to inform the affected workers that they were eligible to apply for work this season.
  • A Skagit County judge found that changes made this year to Sakuma’s housing policy were discriminatory and ruled that Sakuma could not close its labor camps to the families of farmworkers. The changed housing policy excluded the vast majority of farmworker families who have been working at Sakuma for many years now and who are members of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia.
  • While the workers of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia have been available to work, many were unable to apply until Sakuma changed their hiring and housing policies back to what they had been in previous years, which Sakuma did not do until very late in the strawberry season and only after being ordered to do so by the courts. Sakuma claims that they have had to leave 400,000 pounds of strawberries in the fields this year because of a supposed labor shortage, but any lack of labor which Sakuma may have experienced last year was a product of Sakuma’s own policies, and not because of a lack of workers who are able and willing to work.
  • The farmworkers went on strike of their own initiative. After the labor dispute began, the workers sought out the assistance of Community to Community, a Bellingham-based farmworker advocacy group. The Western Washington University and University of Washington branches of Students for Farmworker Justice were formed in response to the workers’ own union calling for a consumer boycott of Sakuma berries. We are advocates of justice for all farmworkers and a food system based on sustainability and fairness, and our role is to promote the consumer boycott of Sakuma products and to support Familias Unidas Por La Justicia’s efforts to organize, which began before C2C was involved or Students for Farmworker Justice even existed.
  • We love berries too! We look forward to the end of the boycott and not having to organize more pickets of Sakuma products − after Sakuma has signed a union contract with Familias Unidas Por La Justicia.
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PROLERSKATING: A May Day Rollerskating Party!

The Portland I.W.W. is proud to present our own awesome May Day party: PROLERSKATING!

All workers are welcome to our FREE rollerskating party at the Mt. Scott Community Center’s roller rink on Friday, May 1!

The action begins at 8:30pm, and we’ll roll the Union on until 11:00pm!

We’re going to celebrate International Workers’ Day with a fun, family-friendly event that is open to everyone (except bosses, of course). There will be:

  • ROLLERSKATING! (free skate rentals)
  • MUSIC! (send us your song requests!)
  • FOOD & BEVERAGES* (this will be a potluck, so feel free to bring along some snacks or a dish!)
  • CONTESTS & PRIZES! (best rollerskating moves?)
  • SOLIDARITY with your comrades!

Also, there will be an unofficial pre-party in the playground area outside of the roller rink, as we wait until 8:30 to go inside.

Please share this event with your family, friends and co-workers!

* note: alcohol is not permitted at the Mt. Scott Community Center. Let’s save the spirits for the after-party!

A Good Old-Fashioned CHINWAG

Fellow Workers, comrades, and all working people of Portland:

The next Portland IWW social event – the Chinwag – will be on TUESDAY, MARCH 31 at the Lucky Lab Brew Pub on SE Hawthorne Ave.

The meetup will be from 6:00 – 10:00pm, with children welcome at the Lucky Lab until 9:00pm. Come and hang out with members of the Portland branch of the Industrial Workers of the World!


Working For Food Justice

Working For Food Justice

The Portland IWW will be a part of this panel discussion. Please join us on Thursday, Feb. 26 at Portland State University!

Market Center Building Room 123
1600 SW 4th Avenue
Portland, OR

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