In a test of both organized labor’s strength and an unusual tactic by management, the staffs of 12 Little Big Burger quick-service restaurants in Oregon rejected a proposal last week to become part of a newly formed union.
The vote was relatively close. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said that 41 employees voted against joining the Little Big Union, and 29 voted in favor of being represented by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) affiliate. Twelve votes have been challenged, apparently by union officials, and one vote was voided.
Seventy of the restaurants’ 109 full- and part-time employees participated in the election. Managers, guards and clerical workers affiliated with the units were not eligible to vote.
The union vote was unusual in part because it was proposed by management of the Little Big Burger restaurants, which are owned and run by national multiconcept operation Chanticleer Holdings. The company called for a ballot soon after the IWW focused its recruitment efforts on a few of the Oregon restaurants. The IWW had successfully organized five units of another prominent quick-service burger chain in the Pacific Northwest, Burgerville, going store by store. An IWW affiliate, Burgerville Union, began its efforts two years before an election was held at the first Burgerville unit to organize.
Chanticleer called for a vote in short order by all of its restaurants in the state, including those where IWW recruiters had yet to concentrate their efforts. It also called for holding the election in a matter of weeks, cutting the time available for the IWW to solicit employee support.
Officials noted that the chain already pays its employees an average of $17 an hour.
The “no” vote leaves Burgerville as the only quick-service operation in the country with a federally recognized union representing its employees. The 45-unit chain has been negotiating a labor contract with employees of the five organized restaurants for months, working with the Burgerville Union.
The labor group has called for a $5 hourly wage hike for all employees, plus benefits such as child care.
Little Big Burger operates about 23 units in total.