An interview with Burgerville Workers Union Organizer Stefan Stackhouse

By Jake Edgar|February 15, 2018Announcements, News, Top Stories|

An interview with Burgerville Workers Union Organizer Stefan Stackhouse

Jake Edgar

JE: How Long have you been part of the Union?

SS: I’ve worked at the Gladstone Burgerville for just over one year. I joined the union for the same reason I think everyone else does: We want control over our own lives. We can only build that power by acting collectively to change the conditions of work. No one deserves to live in poverty, and we want to build a world in which all people have the chance to flourish!

JE: How many members do you have, and are any of them in the management?

SS: Currently the union has active and public members in seven stores** Gladstone workers announced their majority membership in December and the Hawthorne store also did so in February! Burgerville’s strategy seems to have been to wait us out, to let us fizzle and give up. In truth, the opposite has been the case. In the last year the campaign has close to doubled in size and continues to grow into more locations. We’re stronger than ever before, we just pulled off one of the largest fast food strikes in U.S. history, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re ready to negotiate!

Membership in the BVWU is limited to just hourly crew members and there are no membership dues or fees. Managers legally can’t be members of the union.

JE: Since the initial boycott was put into place, are there any new signs of life, or are things just getting worse for you all? No more firings I hope!

SS: All 40ish folks who went out on strike across the four stores are now back at work without any retaliation.  While it was tons of work to plan and execute, spirits are definitely high in the union after the week of action.  Walking off the job on strike was frankly terrifying. None of us at my store had ever gone on strike before, so to walk away from our stations together, read a letter to our GM, clock off and and leave was exhilarating and anxiety inducing. I feel unendingly proud of my coworkers for standing up for ourselves and each other. Recently an extremely well-liked employee of 3.5 years and visible union supporter was fired for allegedly not paying for two cheeseburgers, which is a little over one dollar worth of food with our employee discount. He was a key part of the grill team and we were all shocked to see him disposed of in such a harsh and petty way. For management to suddenly enforce a policy they’d long ignored as an excuse to oust a well-respected worker for his support of the union is beyond shady. By going on strike we showed the company that we’re not disposable and that we’re not going to be intimidated by managers obstructing our communication or firing union members over trivial accusations.

We’ve been really heartened by the outpouring of support from faith congregations, other unions, community organizations, politicians, students, and worker co-operatives for the boycott. It feels good to know that the Pacific Northwest has our back and stands with the union, not with a company that treats it’s workers as though we’re disposable

. While the boycott is just getting started, it’s already huge and is just going to keep growing. The ball is in Burgerville’s court: all they have to do is negotiate!

We never expect any action we take to be the magic solution that changes everything. Transforming power relations is a slow social process that moves in many directions at once. While the strike and boycott didn’t result in instant victory, We’re going to keep doing what we do best: building union membership, taking action, and talking to customers and community organizations!


JE: It seems like the CEO Jill Taylor is completely out of touch with the struggles of everyday workers, and is projecting an image that is the precise inverse of the one your Union portrays of the management. Has she made any attempts to reach out to the Union and begin negotiations?

SS: I think you’re right that Burgerville portrays an image of being an ethical business while all they’ve shown in the last two years has been the opposite. Burgerville is massively profitable, has 43 locations and isn’t franchised. So while they like to coast on a sympathetic narrative that they’re “local” or “different,” they’re actually just another corporation that prioritizes massive profits, image and expansion over the real people that make the products in the first place. The workers who are the heart of this company are earning near minimum wage. We are struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck while unpredictable schedules make it hard to juggle our second jobs, our families, our friends, our budgets, and our hobbies. It’s tough to lead a fulfilling life making poverty wages. We also know that that this isn’t just a problem with Burgerville. The conditions we face at work everyday are eerily similar across the rest of the service and retail industries. This is the result of an entire structure of the low wage economy that will only be transformed through re-building a strong workers movement.


Share this Post: