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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Working for Food Justice: Announcing the BVWU

Saturday, May 14

6:00pm at People’s Food Co-op
(3029 SE 21st Ave, Portland OR)

* Facebook event page *

More information about this public event can be found on the Burgerville Workers Union website.

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Burgerville Workers Unite!

Burgerville Workers Union

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.

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Burgerville Workers Union has gone public!

Learn more about the Burgerville Workers Union, and how you can get involved.

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Donate to the Portland I.W.W.

Hardship Fund:
A fund to help support fellow workers fired for organizing on the job.

Organizing Fund:
A donation to the Organizing Fund helps support our organizing campaigns and training program.

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