Category Archives: Unions

Burgerville Workers Win More Elections!

The Burgerville Workers’ Union is an NWJP client, and the first fast-food union in the country. Because of incredible organizing by workers, BVWU has now won elections in five stores. In December, the Hawthorne and 12th location voted to join the bargaining unit. Then last month, two more shops voted to join the union, despite an especially hostile anti-union campaign.

The union continues with the hard work of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile the boycott against Burgerville continues. With help from NWJP attorney Kate Suisman, and super-volunteer John Sutter, (link to profile) the union is engaged in productive bargaining with Burgerville that is already bringing real improvements to all Burgerville workers, including the right to tips. Worker organizing is a beautiful thing!

Ramon Ramirez from PCUN Urges Support for NWJP

As we wrap up our 15th year of providing much needed legal support for marginalized workers, we are sharing a few stories from some of the organizations we have partnered with over the years.

Our last story comes from our very first partner in this fight -- Ramon Ramirez, long term leader of Oregon’s Farmworker Union – PCUN:
I think PCUN has been successful on many fronts but one of the fronts that we’ve been really successful is protecting the rights of farmworkers. And without the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project being there, ready to file complaints, ready to file lawsuits against abuses and exploitation of farmworkers, we wouldn’t have gotten to the place that we’re at right now.

I think that it’s really awesome to have legal minds backing the organizing work. In addition to that, I think Michael Dale has played a really important role not only in the work here in Oregon but in our work nationally around immigration reform. I remember that Michael was our attorney on the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride that took us across the USA from Oregon, he was on the Oregon bus, and we went to Washington DC and then eventually to New York to fight for immigration reform, he was our attorney. But Michael has done a lot of international work around temporary foreign worker issues, making sure that when those workers, if they’re going to come up to Oregon that their rights are respected, and that they don’t undercut the rights of US workers. We’ve done a lot of work around pesticides, around, you know, I can’t count the number of lawsuits that we’ve filed against the Department of Labor, against EPA, and other state agencies to make sure that farmworker rights were respected.

NWJP has done so much to support PCUN over the years – I urge you to support NWJP now.

Ramon Ramirez


This long time partnership with PCUN is a model for how we work with other unions and organizations that are helping workers organize for more power, for a voice in their workplace. Because of the generous donations we get from our supporters, we are able to put resources into developing relationships with and supporting other organizations (like the Bakers’ Union, and the Burgerville Workers Union). Your support will help us carry on that critical mission.

When we started this project fifteen years ago, we wanted to fill that gap between worker organizing and the law. We have been very successful, but only because of the support from people like you. Since opening our doors, our small staff has helped thousands of Oregon’s workers hold abusive employers accountable and recover well over $4 million in unpaid wages and damages. We’ve educated thousands of workers, worker advocates, and lawyers about labor rights and immigrant rights. Our political advocacy has led to stronger legal protections for workers in Oregon and nationally, and we’ve helped keep anti-immigrant laws out of our communities. NWJP’s efforts are helping low-wage workers to build a fair economy.

As NWJP celebrates our 15th anniversary, we are asking you to join us as we commit to another 15 years of solidarity. Please join us by donating $15 a month to support our ongoing work. If a monthly donation does not work for you, please consider a generous one-time donation.

And thanks to several generous NWJP donors, the first $7,000 of new donations will be matched!

Thank you!


D. Michael Dale

P.S. NWJP is a non-profit that receives no funding from the government, and depends on the strong support of champions for justice like you in order to stand with workers like those at PCUN. You can help by donating online to the NEED Fund to support NWJP’s work at

If you would like to make a non-tax-deductible gift directly to NWJP, please send a check made out to "NWJP" to 812 SW Washington, Ste. 225, Portland, OR 97205. Tax-deductible donations to support our work can be made to our 501(c)(3) partner, NEED Fund.

Luis Brennan from the Burgerville Workers Union Asks You to Support NWJP

As we wrap our 15th year of providing legal support for marginalized workers, we are sharing a few stories from some of the organizations we have partnered with over the years.

Our second story comes from Luis Brennan of the Burgerville Workers Union:

It’s hard to hold a job at Burgerville. You work long hours on your feet, and you end up smelling like french fries and burgers. On top of that, you’re still having difficulty making rent and your housing is always insecure because of the low pay.

I and a number of people from the IWW wound up getting jobs at Burgerville and began to build an organization with co-workers around a vision not just to change policies, but to create an organization to hold Burgerville accountable and serve as a voice for us as workers.

We got connected to NWJP and they offered to support us with legal resources for free.  It’s really been a game-changer. Because of their support, we’ve been able to have deeper strategy and have more nuanced focus about what we’re doing. We’ve been able to avoid pitfalls and feel more confident that we’re going to win. We’ve done this exciting thing of winning two National Labor Relations Board certification elections, the only fast food union in the country who’s done that, and we could not have succeeded without NWJP’s help. No one in the campaign had any election experience or knew how to work the election process. And NWJP was there every step of the way supporting us to do this and to win the elections. Another exciting election is around the corner.  Without NWJP’s help, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened.  We are infinitely grateful for all they’ve done for us.

I hope you can support this important organization.

In solidarity,
Luis Brennan
Burgerville Workers Union

Workers who are trying to organize need access to good legal help. Larger unions can provide this, but many workers are left out. NWJP believes that true change for workers will only come through organizing so one of our strategies is to support workers and their organizations as they work to develop a voice in their workplace.

Because of the support we get from people like you, we have been able not only to work with Luis and his coworkers during their organizing and election, but we are currently assisting them at the bargaining table. The Burgerville Workers Union’s election made national history—and so will their first good union contract. Our hope is that it will be a model for the rest of the fast food industry.

You can help make sure that we are there to support more workers like Luis!

As NWJP celebrates its 15th anniversary, we are asking you to join us as we commit to another 15 years of solidarity. Can you pledge to donate $15 a month to support our ongoing work? If a monthly donation does not work for you, please consider a one-time gift.

Thank you!

D. Michael Dale

P.S. NWJP is a non-profit that receives no funding from the government, and depends on the strong support of champions for justice like you in order to stand with workers like those at Portland Specialty baking. You can help by donating online to the NEED Fund to support NWJP’s work at

If you would like to make a non-tax-deductible gift directly to NWJP, please send a check made out to "NWJP" to 812 SW Washington, Ste. 225, Portland, OR 97205. Tax-deductible donations to support our work can be made to our 501(c)(3) partner, NEED Fund.

Justice for Oregon Janitors

Starting July 1st, the Property Service Worker Protection Act of 2017 (HB 3279), a law that NWJP and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49 worked to get passed to protect janitorial workers, will go into effect. Janitorial contractors will now be required to have a license from the Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) and a bond that employees can use to recover unpaid wages. If building owners/operators contract with unlicensed janitorial contractors, the owners/operators could be held responsible for a janitorial employee’s unpaid wages or for other violations of the law. The goal is to prevent under-resourced and fly-by-night janitorial companies from leaving employees without any recourse for labor violations--either the employer will have a bond or the end user of the janitorial services will be responsible too.

As an expansion of the law that has successfully helped regulate farm labor contractors for decades, the law also includes new provisions that require janitorial contractors to provide training on sexual harassment. Because of the nature of janitorial work, done often at night or in isolated spaces, sexual harassment and abuse on the job are endemic. Therefore, the law works to educate and provide resources for workers’ physical safety as well.

On June 15th, members of SEIU Local 49 took to downtown Portland to notify building owners and managers of the new law and their potential liability for unlicensed contractors on Justice for Janitors Day, a day that recognizes janitors’ historical and ongoing struggles for fair wages and safe working conditions.

SEIU Local 49 also released a report on how the law could clean up the janitorial industry. The report chronicles the type of labor violations that NWJP regularly sees in the industry. NWJP regularly represents workers in cases of misclassification and “franchise” schemes, unpaid wages, health and safety violations, and sex discrimination.

From Michael’s Desk

Huge congratulations rightly go out to the members of the Burgerville Workers’ Union for winning NLRB elections at two Burgerville locations, and in the process, becoming part of the first union in history to be certified as an official collective bargaining representative in a fast food establishment.

Michael with Michelle and Mark form the Burgerville Workers Union

But those of us who cheer these workers on must understand.  We may only be at the very first step of a long struggle to win a union to stand behind these brave, determined workers.  To be real, and to be worth the sacrifice, the newly minted union must negotiate a contract with Burgerville that actually increases workers’ security and makes material improvements to their working conditions.

As the initial rounds of bargaining open, the company has come to the table with representations of its good faith, even having taken to the media to present Burgerville as respectful of workers’ rights and eager to become a pioneer in the industry in working productively with the union.  If the company is sincere, negotiating a contract should be quick and relatively painless.

But so far, nothing substantive has been agreed, and, at the same time, key activists have been fired on pretextual charges by the company, which refuses to discuss their reinstatement.  One wonders.

If you assume that Burgerville is just as opposed to sharing control of its workplaces as it has been up to now, we still could have a huge fight ahead. Workers at about half a dozen of the 42 Burgerville stores have publicly come out in support of the union, and so far have won NLRB elections at only two. The contract would only cover workers at the two NLRB-certified locations.  If a beneficial contract is quickly negotiated, this would encourage workers in other stores to join the campaign.  To avoid this, Burgerville could slow walk the contract negotiations and continue pressuring the workers who led this historic drive in an effort to convince workers in unorganized stores—and even in the organized shops—that there is no future with the union, and no benefit from paying union dues. We are hopeful that the company will continue having real discussion about the union’s demands for fairer scheduling, better wages, and a safer, more respectful work environment. But if Burgerville management is blowing smoke about wanting to respect workers’ choice to organize, it may dig in against allowing any good to come from recognition of the union.

If that happens, what’s to be done?  In the long run, the NLRA must be amended to require arbitration of first contracts.  Under such a system, after a reasonable period of bargaining to reach a mutual agreement, both sides would offer their last and best offer of contract terms, and an arbitrator would choose one or the other offer, which would be recognized as the initial contract.  Since both sides will want their terms to be chosen, each has incentive to offer the most reasonable acceptable terms.  At a minimum, the workers would win a first contract.

Of course, we can’t expect any such change soon. But when Democrats again win control of the federal government, this, and other, labor law reforms must have a very high priority.  It is not acceptable that labor law reform be put off, once again, until a “later” that never comes.

In the meantime, the workers have to stay strong, and stay together, girding for what could be a long struggle.  The community must rise to support this historic effort.  Even after the election victories, the boycott of Burgerville called by the union remains in effect.  We can help by honoring the boycott. A rite of spring in my family, and one of my own favorite indulgences, has long been celebrating the arrival of fresh Oregon berries by enjoying a Burgerville strawberry shortcake.  Won’t be doing that this spring.  I hope you won’t either.

And as workers reach out for help, the community must respond with enthusiasm and vigor.

Volunteer Spotlight: John Sutter Helps

NWJP is fortunate to be supported by our community in many ways.  One important form of support is donated volunteer time.

Local attorney John Sutter has been representing public employee unions in Oregon for over twenty years.  He currently represents the hourly workers at Chemeketa and Linn-Benton Community Colleges.

After NWJP started advising the emerging union, the Burgerville Workers’ Union, John stepped in with his vast experience in labor law to help Campaign and Alliances Coordinator/Staff Attorney Kate Suisman with the representation.  He has put in countless hours of research, met with workers, helped strategize, and provided excellent legal advice.  NWJP is grateful to John for his dedication to workers and the power of organizing.

John Sutter and NWJP staff members Chris Ferlazzo, Laura Galindo Palomera and Maggie Black stand with fired Burgerville worker and Union member Michelle Ceballos at Portland Jobs with Justice Faith Labor Breakfast

The Burgerville Workers’ Union recently filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.  Read more about the workers’ fight here or on their Facebook page.  The workers have called for a boycott of Burgerville restaurants until management negotiates a fair contract.

From Michael’s desk

On February 24, 2018, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case that could have profound negative impact on low wage workers in Oregon and across the nation. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, involves the issue of whether public employees unions may charge non-members who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement for the costs of negotiating and administering the contract that benefits them. Unions have an obligation to provide fair representation to all workers covered by a contract, even if they are not members of the union, or do not pay union dues.  In 1977, the Court held in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that unions could not require nonmembers to join the union, nor pay union dues to pay for political and speech activities with which they disagree. However, Abood established that such workers could be charged agency fees for their fair share of the cost of negotiating and administering the contract. The plaintiff in Janus is trying to overturn this long-settled principle.

The case currently before the Supreme Court comes from Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus is not a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local chapter (the union working with many public sector workers in the state). But in Illinois and some 21 other states, including Oregon, workers may be required to pay “fair-share” fees, even if they decline to join the union, because they still benefit from the union’s bargaining activities.

Janus, however, argues that because public sector unions enter into bargaining agreements with the government, all of their activity should be seen as political. And because he disagrees with that political activity, he wants to be able to opt out of paying any fees to the union. Anything less, Janus and his lawyers argue, is an infringement on his First Amendment rights.

AFSCME and other public sector unions disagree. Instead, they see the case simply as a political attack on one of the last strongholds of the US union movement. According to NPR, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “while the union membership rate in the private sector is a meager 6.5 percent, it’s more than a third among public employees.” This case is one part of a coordinated attack by right wing groups aimed at defunding and disrupting organized labor--the last major obstacle to complete corporate dominance of our politics and governance.

In 2016, the Supreme Court heard a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, but deadlocked in a 4 – 4 decision following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But with a full court, including Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, a conservative majority is expected to overturn Abood, effectively turning the public sector into a “right to work” zone.

The effects on public employees unions and their members are likely to be severe.  After Wisconsin public employees lost the right to charge fair share agency fees, public employee unions lost most of their ability to bargain for and win fair conditions and to play much of a role in the politics of the state.  2014 High School Teacher of the Year Rick Erickson was happy with his job in 2009, making $35,770 a year teaching chemistry and physics. Then, Wisconsin passed a law which eliminated agency fees and dramatically limited the ability of teachers and other public employees to bargain with employers on wages, benefits, and working conditions. After this change, Erickson saw his take-home pay drop dramatically: He now makes $30,650. The local union he once led—the Bayfield Education Association—is no longer certified to collectively bargain, so he can't formally negotiate with the school district for things like prep time and sick days. He pays more for health care and his pension, and he says both he and his wife (also a teacher) may now not be able to retire until they are much older than they had planned.  Meanwhile Wisconsin—once a proud bastion of worker political power—is now firmly in right-wing, anti-worker control, and voted to elect Donald Trump.

Most of the workers NWJP represents do not have a union, and almost none are public employees, so why should this possible impending damage to public employee unions matter to us? I suggest that there are at least 6 reasons: 1) public employment under a collective bargaining agreement has been an important path out of poverty for workers of color and for women; 2) higher wages for unionized workers have been shown to lift wages for all workers in the economy; 3) the role that public unions have played in legislative elections and ballot measure battles has been critical, partly off-setting the huge financial resources available to the right; 4) the advocacy of labor in general—and public employee unions in particular—has been very important in each of the recent legislative advances for low wage workers we’ve been able to achieve in Oregon over the last few years, including raising the minimum wage, winning paid sick leave, attacking wage theft, and guaranteeing equal pay for equal work; 5) just as important, strong policy advocacy to resist efforts of business to degrade worker protections is an important barrier to keep our state from moving backwards on workers’ rights; and 6) the public employees unions have generously pitched in to support efforts of grass roots organizations like PCUN, Causa, and NWJP.

We will probably see a decision of the Supreme Court as early as June. Labor leaders in Oregon are hard at work planning for the worst, and devising ways to adapt and survive, to avoid Oregon becoming another Wisconsin. We should keep informed of these efforts and support them however we can. We are called to pay particular attention during this critical time; we must be creative, resourceful, and energetic in responding to this challenge, ready and willing to rise to the occasion, to join together in solidarity with progressive allies as one of our very highest priorities.

Farmworker Victories Around the Region

While we usually focus on local news in our updates, these two victories for farmworkers in Washington and California are highly significant.

Courtesy of FUJ

In Washington, three years of organizing have led to a historic victory for workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms. The campaign included a boycott of Driscoll’s berries and several actions in the Portland area. Last week, workers voted overwhelmingly (192-55) to join a union, and are demanding a contract guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage and sick leave.

Meanwhile, in California, farmworkers are finally on track to receive the same overtime pay that workers in other industries receive: time and a half for more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Farmworkers are still unfairly excluded from most of the rights enshrined by the FLSA, but this bill signed into law last week represents a major victory.

Read more here:

Using the National Labor Relations Act to protect non-union workers

By Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, NWJP's Deputy Director
Photographer unknown

We all know that unions are the backbone of the American middle class and that workers who do not enjoy a unionized workplace often suffer more abuses, get paid less, and have fewer protections.

Even where they don’t have a union, workers can take action together to improve their working situations, and those actions are usually protected. At NWJP, we have recently seen each of the following situations serve as a catalyst for groups of clients to band together and demand changes in their workplace:

  • A verbally abusive supervisor;
  • Relocation of the work site, which led to a longer commute and a longer work day for the same money;
  • An aggressive co-worker;
  • An unfair tip pool;

Whether or not other laws protect workers regarding these issues, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives most employees the right to “engage in…concerted activities” for their “mutual aid or protection.” For example, to complain about that supervisor, employees are protected when they get together to schedule and attend a meeting with the general manager. They are also protected when they engage in a group work stoppage to demand a raise to help offset the loss of time commuting to the new warehouse.  They are protected when they gather signatures on a letter to the boss regarding the aggressive co-worker. And, they are protected when they meet outside of the workplace with other servers to talk about the way tips are distributed and how to approach the owners about the problems.

In each of these cases, our clients were fired for engaging in the protected activity. To support them, we filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In all of the cases, the NLRB engaged in immediate and extensive investigations into potential violations. NLRB remedies are limited to cease-and-desist orders, notice postings, and reinstatement and back pay if the worker has legal immigration status. However, the process allows for a relatively rapid venue to address attempts to repress organizing efforts and to negotiate a favorable settlement of these and other employment law claims.