A labor dispute at popular Portland breakfast chain Pine State Biscuits has made its way to City Hall.
Documents obtained by WW show Pine State workers emailed City Commissioner Amanda Fritz on Oct. 9 to allege that their boss, co-owner Brian Snyder, broke promises he made to the city in 2013 regarding wages and health care benefits. Snyder disagrees, telling WW he "absolutely contests the claim."
On Oct. 11, Fritz agreed to meet with Pine State workers to "discuss [their] concerns." This month, employees took those concerns to Snyder and the public: They are now gathering signatures outside stores for a petition to increase wages and implement comprehensive health care benefits.
What Pine State Biscuits said in 2013
At a Portland City Council meeting, Pine State Biscuits co-owner Brian Snyder testified in favor of an ordinance that requires city employers to provide earned sick leave to workers. Snyder said the breakfast chain planned to expand and offer new workers better pay and benefits.
"We plan to add 12 to 15 more jobs in Portland this year, opening another location," Snyder said. "And they are going to be living wage jobs with health care benefits."
What workers say now
In the six years following Snyder's testimony, Pine State has opened two more locations in Portland and one in Reno, Nev. But workers want a guaranteed $15-an-hour wage and comprehensive health insurance. They say Pine State refuses to give them that—and Snyder broke his pledge.
In a letter to management last week, workers wrote, "While Pine State is a popular Portland restaurant, many PSB employees struggle to pay costs of living and many are forced to avoid seeking medical care."
Employees had already taken their complaint to City Hall, writing letters to Fritz and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. The City Council has no control over Pine State's wages—but employees are seeking a public show of support. "If our employer refuses to make good on his promise to the city of Portland," the letter to Fritz says, "will you join the workers of the Pine State and support us publicly?"
What Pine State says now
Snyder contests the allegations that he hasn't kept the promises he made in 2013. He concedes Pine State employees, depending on experience, start at minimum wage but that those wages can rise.
He says the company offers two health care plans for employees, one that meets the minimum requirements for coverage for an individual under the Affordable Care Act and a more comprehensive plan through Kaiser. He says the company subsidizes 50 percent of the premiums of both plans.
"Our position has always been to try to provide a living wage for staff through not just their paycheck but a total compensation package," Snyder says. "My concern is, there is misinformation in the minds of employees."
Why it matters
The dispute at Pine State is the latest high-profile labor strife at a Portland counter-service eatery.
At Burgerville, the first fast-food restaurant in the nation to unionize, employees recently went on strike following failed wage negotiations. In July, after contentious votes, workers rejected a union drive at Little Big Burger. And quietly, in September, the small workforce at Scottie's Pizza Parlor unionized and was voluntarily recognized by the pizzeria's owner.