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Union vote slated for regional QSR chain

Employees of 12 Little Big Burger units will cast their ballots in July—at the request of their employer.
Photograph: Shutterstock

At the request of the Little Big Burger quick-service chain, the 112 full- and part-time workers employed at 12 of the chain’s restaurants in Oregon will vote in less than two weeks on whether to unionize. 

The employees will be mailed ballots on July 1. To be counted, the voting forms must be signed and received via mail by the designated federal office in Portland, Ore., by 3 p.m. on July 23. 

If the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) win the right to represent the workers through an affiliate called the Little Big Union (LBU), Little Big Burger would become the second restaurant chain in the nation with a partially unionized workforce. Five stores of another quick-service chain in the Pacific Northwest, 45-unit Burgerville, have been organized unit by unit during the past seven months or so. 

The go-ahead from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is likely to touch off a frenzy of campaigning by both the LBU and the management of Little Big Burger. The employer had asked for the expedited vote, apparently in hopes of preempting the LBU from mustering support for organizing on a unit-by-unit basis. Until the request for the vote was placed with the NLRB, the union had focused on a few stores.

Asked last week if he thought management would win the election, Little Big Burger’s VP of operations for the Oregon market declined to say. “We just want the highest possible voter turnout,” said Adrian Oca. “We’ve taken the approach that we want our employees to do their homework, to research both sides.”

Little Big Burger had asked that the balloting be done inside its stores. The chain offered to close the units that would serve as polling places so no members of management would be present. But the LBU and the IWW asked for a vote by mail.

The chain had also asked that the voting be expanded to include employees of all 13 Little Big Burger units in Oregon. But the NLRB declined the request, noting that transportation could be a problem for an outlying store. All 12 units included in the vote lie within an 11-mile radius. 

The July vote will be closely watched by both organized labor and the restaurant industry. Employers rarely ask for an election because the prospect raises the possibility of employees being organized into a collective bargaining unit. Success by Little Big Burger could provide management with a new strategy for quashing unions’ recruitment efforts.

Little Big Burger operates 23 units in total, including stores in Texas, North Carolina and the state of Washington. 

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