Union Workers Illegally Fired and Suspended for Going on Strike at Little Big Burger

[5/6/2019] Portland, Oregon — On the evening of Friday May 3, 2019, Little Big Burger (LBB) workers Ashley Reyes (she/her), Jules Jones (they/them), and Bradley Meyers (they/them) raised concerns to management over the unsafe working conditions and rampant understaffing they faced during a weekend dinner rush.  LBB workers have reported that weekend shifts are chronically understaffed at the NW 23rd location. Last Friday this resulted in a line of customers out the door and a sink that had overflowed to flood the entire back of the restaurant, including the break room, and dishwashing and walk-in fridge area. In the past several months alone three workers have been injured and received workers compensation for slipping on the floors at the Northwest 23rd location. The restaurant was too short staffed to remedy the situation in the back while attending to customer demand in the front. At 8:30pm after finishing the last of the current orders, the three workers went on strike, citing unsafe working conditions caused by intentional understaffing and resulting in a slip hazards in the back rooms.  They notified management that they would return unconditionally at 10pm to close the store. Upon returning they were told to go home instead. The following day, Saturday May 4, all three were interrogated by corporate managers and suspended “pending an investigation.” On Sunday May 5, Ashley Reyes attended a disciplinary meeting with management and was fired. She was given no reason. She has worked at Little Big Burger for nearly two years, has never been late, and has just one disciplinary write up in her employee file. The reasoning for her termination needs no explanation: workers were disciplined and/or fired for their participation in concerted collective action.

In the weeks since hiring local union busting firm Bullard Law, Little Big Burger upper management has attempted to stifle workers who speak up about poor working conditions. LBB has posted anti-union posters accusing the union of being a third-party, spreading misinformation about dues and the relationship to the IWW and Burgerville Workers Union, and falsely claiming that the union has called a boycott on the restaurant. They fired pro-union employee Ava Turner in April. They’ve now enacted their second retaliatory firing of Ashley Reyes, vocal union supporter, and a participant in the Friday night work stoppage. In her termination meeting, regional vice president Adrian Oca threatened to file a restraining order against her if she was found at any LBB store location. “I’m very upset and disheartened that they tried to intimidate me by essentially threatening a restraining order when they fired me. They warmly accept me in the workplace when I’m picking up hours for them and covering shifts. But the second I and my co-workers say we don’t like the way we’re being treated they fire me and threaten to file a restraining order,” says Ashley Reyes.

Another worker who participated in the strike, Bradley Meyers, was disciplined with indefinite suspension pending an LBB “investigation” into the Friday night slip hazard: “It was really strange, it felt like I was being lectured by a parent. They were making me feel like I did something insanely wrong for standing up for my safety and my co-worker’s safety. It felt backwards.” Management claims that this suspension is non-disciplinary. “They told me that I’m not in trouble in any way, that I’d get paid for 2 hours for coming in, and that they’d make a decision about my employment by the next time I come in. That however, wasn’t true, as I was told by Adrian Oca the investigation was not over today on my way to work (May 6) and was sent home again,” says Meyers.

On top of taking legal action by filing a complaint with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and a ULP (Unfair Labor Practice) with the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), Little Big Union is demanding that Little Big Burger rehire Ashley Reyes and end the work suspensions of Bradley Meyers and Jules Jones with back pay for the lost wages they incurred. Little Big Union views these as illegal firings and discipline for protected concerted activity, and does not accept Little Big Burger minimizing the safety risk at their NW 23rd location as a decoy for firing union a union member.

“We want corporate and Bullard Law to know that they are breaking the law and that workers and our communities have our backs when bullies union bust. Portland is a union town, and solidarity always beats negativity,” Ashley Reyes

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Quote from Bradley Meyers: “Getting sent home the past two days is going to directly impact me since they were my longer shifts for the week. I need this job so that I can continue to go to school and afford to live in Portland. They even said that tips won’t be included for the 2 hours they promised to pay me for coming in. I had been scheduled for only 8 hours last week and I had picked up enough shifts to get 27.5 hours. All I could think about when we were walking off was that it’s irresponsible for them to be scheduling me so little when we are already constantly understaffed for busy weekend shifts. I don’t know why this is always happening.”

Quote from Ashley Reyes: “Workers dreams about walking off when things are so busy that it’s getting dangerous, there’s a reason that people think about that. Deep down people know when they’re being taken advantage of,  we just took action because we’re humans and everybody has a boundary they’re not willing to cross.”