Little Big Burger Hires Notorious Union Busting Law Firm and Fires Union worker

[4/22/2019] Portland, April 18th, 2019 – Last week Little Big Burger (LBB) lawyered up in response to the existence of Little Big Union (LBU) by hiring Bullard Law Group, a notorious local union-busting firm. Up to this point LBB has claimed not to be anti-union. In a letter written on March 22 from Adrian Oca, LBB regional manager and corporate representative of parent company Chanticleer Holdings, he encourages a spirit of “mutual respect,” desire for an “amicable relationship,” and most glaringly states that “LBB and I support and respect our associates’ rights to join a labor union.” Yet in the face of those promises, Little Big Burger has chosen to hire a law firm that specializes in union busting. Bullard Law counts two other familiar Portland institutions among its past and present clients, Burgerville and IRCO, and now LBB is the third. The same week Bullard came on board, LBB fired Ava Turner, a union member. LBU believes this was a retaliatory firing for Ava’s vocal union support. This is the beginning of a union busting campaign.

Ava was terminated from her job during a disciplinary hearing held by three LBB managers. They did not allow Ava to have Little Big Union (LBU) representation at the meeting. Management stated she was terminated from her position for being late to her shift. Past infractions of the same nature have not historically resulted in firing, more commonly resulting in a write-up in an employee file. This is a move straight out of the union busting playbook: fire the union organizers to weaken the union.

Bullard Law Group specializes in businesses that have burgeoning labor unions, led by workers, and hated by bosses. Their website states: “Labor law is at the heart of what we do.” What they mean by labor law is knowing legal and illegal methods to circumvent worker protections and labor rights to suppress union organizing. This includes deploying strategies for businesses to intimidate workers to not join the union, spread false information to discourage Yes votes, and promise raises and promotions in exchange for workers staying out of the union. Their website cites the “growing number of regulations and labor laws” as a challenge for businesses. We see those labor laws as hard won victories meant to protect workers from exploitation, an inevitability in a capitalist system with stagnant wages. When Burgerville hired Bullard two years ago, Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) experienced an immediate uptick in hostile and armed counter-protesters at their union events.  Burgerville corporate ultimately dropped Bullard when BVWU went on to win a series of union elections and hired another union busting firm, Tonkon Torp. This spring 2019 a member of the IRCO workers union, a syndicate of AFSCME, was fired in the same week that IRCO hired Bullard. Like Ava, this organizer was vocally pro union and was the first target when Bullard rolled up its sleeves. Bullard’s legal representative Dennis E Westlind used to work at Tonkon Torp and was the in-house anti-union lawyer for Providence St. Joseph Health for seven years. His alleged fee for IRCO is $400/hr. Meanwhile, IRCO is a community nonprofit funded by grants from the city (read: tax payer money) and private donations from people committed to helping immigrants and refugees. That money goes fast when it’s being spent on a fancy lawyer to keep employee wages low.

LBB continues to tout a neutral stance on its union. Adrian Oca writes “Ava’s firing was a route and normal implementation of company policy.” But the termination was out of step with the previous precedent for similar infractions. It was targeted retaliation, and LBU is demanding that Ava Turner be rehired and compensated for wages lost while unemployed. So far Oca has not responded to our demand. Furthermore, to date, neither Chanticleer Holdings nor any representative of Little Big Burger has agreed to meet with Little Big Union in the 37 days since we went public in March 16th, 2019.

Update June 2019: Ava was never rehired and had to find other employment.