What happened, when and why?
Burgerville has had a long-standing, unwritten uniform policy that prohibits any non-Burgerville buttons, except for buttons protected by NLRB rights.
Employees at the Montavilla Burgerville recently began wearing buttons that said, “Abolish ICE,” and, “No One Is Illegal;” some also began writing anarchist messages on their arms. Some customers provided feedback that while they respect that our employees have personal opinions, they didn’t want divisive messages while they were gathering with their families for a meal. Additionally, some employees expressed that the content of the buttons was making them uncomfortable.
Burgerville is committed to a safe, friendly and inclusive environment, and we responded by reviewing our policy when customers and employees gave feedback that the buttons were not in keeping with that commitment.
On August 22, Burgerville began to administer its long-standing unwritten policy with crew members at the Montavilla location. The employees felt the policy was premature and didn’t provide enough clarification about what would be included. They asked if they were wearing a “Black Lives Matter” button if they would have to take it off; they were told yes. They asked if they were wearing a “Breast Cancer Awareness” or “Pokémon” button if they would have to take it off; they were told yes.
That was upsetting to some employees and they inquired about their options if they refused to remove their buttons. At Burgerville, if you refuse to follow a company policy, you can be sent home. Some crew members chose to keep their buttons on and were asked to clock out, while others chose to remove their personal buttons and stay. Burgerville managers filled in, closing the drive-thru so the team could continue to effectively serve customers.
That evening, Burgerville decided to put a pause on the policy to look at how to better roll it out. The following morning, employees returned to work. They wore their buttons. They were compensated for their time lost. Burgerville immediately set to work updating our uniform policy and creating a rollout plan, incorporating feedback from employees and customers. The final policy was shared with employees on Thursday, September 6, and adopted on Thursday, September 13.
Why are you creating this policy now?
Burgerville had a long-standing verbal policy prohibiting the wearing of personal buttons. Not having a written policy was causing confusion among our employees and customers. We have now updated our written uniform policy to include specific rules about buttons that represent our long-standing commitment to creating a universally welcoming and inclusive environment for our customers and employees alike.
Why aren’t you allowing employees to wear personal and political buttons at work?
Burgerville guests have a right to expect a friendly, inclusive environment when they enter our restaurants. That’s what community is all about. They don’t expect to see someone’s political agenda on display, no matter how genuine or urgent it may be. We respect our employees’ right to express their own opinions, and we encourage them to stay active and engaged outside the workplace.
How has the union played a role in this policy decision?
Montavilla Burgerville has not had an election of employees overseen by the NLRB and is not recognized by the NLRB as a part of the collective bargaining between Burgerville and the Industrial Workers of the World, Portland Chapter, d.b.a Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU).
Have any employees quit because of this policy change?
One employee has given notice with specific reference to this policy. The employee did not work at the Montavilla restaurant or at either of the two restaurants represented by a union.
Is Burgerville corporate restricting political statements made by workers during work hours?
We have updated our written uniform policy, and buttons and other messaging – both political and personal – are not allowed. It is a policy that is common in public-facing businesses and is in alignment with our mission: Serve With Love.
What customer feedback have you experienced because you have allowed employees to wear buttons with political messages?
There was an uptick in feedback from customers about this issue. We received phone calls, emails and comments on social media.
What’s your plan moving forward?
The updated uniform policy went into effect on Thursday, September 13. We gave employees notice, so they could to make a choice that works best for them. Moving forward, if employees choose not to follow the updated uniform policy, they will have a choice to either remove their button(s) or be sent home.
Do you see this as something that could cause conflict between your company and your customers?
This policy is very common among businesses with public-facing employees. Rather than fostering division, we believe this policy helps promote an environment of inclusiveness for everyone, customers and employees alike. We want to be a place where people put aside their differences, even if only for the time it takes to share a greeting and have a burger.
What if a customer comes in with a button that one of your employees disagrees with?
We have over 9 million visits per year so naturally it happens—it doesn’t mean that we stop coming from our mission: Serve With Love.
The safety and security of our guests and our employees is paramount to our mission. Our desire is to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. We do not tolerate harassment or discrimination in our restaurants.
What about Unfair Labor Practice claims that the union has filed with the National Labor Relations Boards (NLRB)?
As of September 17, the claims are with the NLRB to consider; we are awaiting their guidance. To find out more there is a search function for claims on their website: www.nlrb.org.
The union has said that you were bargaining on this issue and that you still rolled this policy out, is that true?
Employees at the two unionized Burgerville restaurants have always followed the previously unwritten policy and have not worn personal or political buttons while at work. The new policy does not materially change the employee’s button wearing practices at the two unionized restaurants.
The union has presented Burgerville with 26 proposals including one regarding the uniform policy. We negotiated on the uniform issue in good faith at the meeting on August 29, and we’ll continue to bargain in good faith on this issue. Our next meeting is scheduled for October 10 and we look forward to continuing the conversations.
What do you think about the employee strike on September 18?
Burgerville supports its employees’ right to engage in lawful protest.