Yearlong tensions over homelessness and policing in the Lents neighborhood took a surprising turn Aug. 3, when fast food chain Burgerville announced it would temporarily close its restaurant at Southeast 92nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard. The company cited employee concerns about increasing vandalism and crime around the storefront.
Burgerville CEO Jill Taylor said in a statement, “While it saddens me to temporarily close this Burgerville, I will always put the safety and security of our employees first.”
A company spokesperson told WW: “The environment around the restaurant has deteriorated seriously. Police are now being called daily. Burgerville employees have found weapons, drug paraphernalia, and human waste on the property.” No police reports have been filed about any of the incidents, according to the spokesperson.
That announcement came as a surprise to the Burgerville Workers Union. The 92nd and Powell location was the first Burgerville location to unionize in 2018.
Mark Medina, a spokesperson for the union, tells WW the announcement that the store was closing came as a “complete shock” to the union.
“We had zero involvement in the decision. We were completely blindsided by this. We contacted membership at 92nd and Powell, and tried to get more information and clarity from the company. We just got off the phone with HR rep, and things seem incredibly vague. I’m not getting any specific details.”
Medina added that “not a single worker that I reached out to had said anything about any notice of this,” and said that employees he spoke with did not seem particularly concerned with either vandalism nor crime that the company alluded to in its press release.
Medina says all 20 employees at the Lents location are union members. That Burgerville location was the first successful fast food chain store to ever unionize, in 2018. Workers at four other franchises have joined the union: the Gladstone, Convention Center, Hawthorne and 82nd and Glisan locations.
Medina says the union plans to file an unfair labor practice complaint this afternoon “over unilateral changes to working conditions.”
The human resources representative for the company, Medina says, assured him that employees would be temporarily brought into other locations to work. But Medina worries that transportation may be an issue.
A company spokesperson who declined to give their name said in an email: “Burgerville always alerts employees of company news before releasing information to the press. Today was no different.”
“The conditions at this location have been deteriorating for months. Employees and guests have borne the brunt of it. Weapons, drug needles and human feces on site are unsafe. We’ve called police for intervention and we have hired security, but conditions continue to worsen. We have no other recourse now but to shut down temporarily to ensure the safety of employees and guests,” the spokesperson said. “Employees are being paid for scheduled shifts and offered positions at nearby locations.”