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The U.S. Gets Its First Unionized Fast-Food Restaurant

Instead of spending millions trying to eat an entire burger chain at once, as the SEIU has done, the Wobblies took a smaller bite at unionizing and won.

For the last six years, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has spent tens of millions of dollars and untold numbers of man hours conducting “strikes” trying to unionize the fast-food industry without a single victory.


Yet, in Portland, Oregon, an older and much smaller union, the International Workers of the World (IWW)–or ‘Wobblies,’ as they used to be known as–has done the unthinkable: it has successfully won the first election to unionize a fast-food restaurant in the United States.

“The vote, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, was overwhelmingly in favor, with 18 members of the bargaining unit voting yes, and four voting no,” according to Portland’s Eater.


Although the Wobblies’ campaign targeted the lesser known Burgerville, a smaller burger chain that was started with a single store in 1961 to now 42 across the Pacific Northwest, it has already scored more success than the SEIU’s six-year, multi-million dollar campaign to unionize the industry.

Perhaps, instead of spending tens of millions of its existing members’ dues by trying to swallow whole burger chains at once, the SEIU’s master planners could have learned a lesson from the Wobblies and taken smaller bites.

Of course, the IWW has not sat down at the bargaining table yet with Burgerville’s management or its attorneys yet, and it is still unknown whether a fast-food restaurant, with its usually low margins, can sustain itself with the financial weight of a union mixed into its ingredients.

However, the IWW has already done what its much larger cousin, the SEIU, has not done in the last six years in the fast-food industry—the IWW has won an election to represent workers.


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