Over the weekend, temperatures in Portland hit record-breaking highs on both Saturday and Sunday. Heat stroke is a serious concern for food service workers across the city. After two days of working through triple-digit temperatures, employees at the Voodoo Donut location in Portland’s Old Town went on strike To protest the working conditions of the company. Now those employees are saying that the company is firing employees in retaliation, which will be in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Early Thursday, when temperatures in Portland were in the 70s, Voodoo Donut employees began feeling signs of heat exhaustion. A current Voodoo Donut employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the company, says she started feeling sick Thursday morning when she started work. “In the building,[the temperatures]were in the 80s, and the work by the fryers was absolutely pathetic,” she says. “By the end of the day, I was doubling down with my head in a trash can.”
Employees say they contacted management over the weekend about improving the cooling system or closing the store, worrying that the situation would worsen; However, employees have struggled with heat for years prior to the recent heat wave within the Voodoo Donut location on the west side. “This is not the first year that this place has been facing heat issues. The current A/C unit, which did not cool the location completely, was installed only this year. It has been a daily conversation,” says Samantha Bryce, a Voodoo Donut employee and organizer of Voodoo Donut’s workers union, Donut Workers United. “The only reason you haven’t heard of strikes or walk-outs in the past is because we didn’t have a union then.”
On Saturdays, employees began bringing ambient thermometers into the store to record the heat in the kitchen; Not taking into account the heat around the fryer and oven, the reading climbed to about 96 degrees inside the store. On Sunday, June 27, employees contacted the store’s general manager, saying the heat had reached dangerous temperatures and the location should be closed. Many employees say that the general manager told them that if they were too hot, they could leave.
Donut Workers United issued a statement on Sunday saying that many donut shop workers have decided to go on strike. “During this time other establishments have taken the appropriate step of closing, while Voodoo Donuts, with its large SW windows and deep fryers, has not,” the statement said. “Efforts to provide relief such as Gatorade and wet towels are inadequate and the current air conditioning system is not up to the mark to deal with this heat.” Seven workers went out that day.
The strike continued on Monday, a day when temperatures again exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit; Around 11 workers either went out or stayed at home during the strike period. Voodoo Donut’s corporate office, which does not recognize the union, responded that in addition to wet towels and Gatorade, the company moved production hours to cooler times of day, and extended employee holidays. “Employee and customer safety is our top priority; if we believe either is at risk, we will not be open for business,” reads Monday’s statement.
But a current Voodoo Donut employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation, says the company didn’t actually increase break or shift production hours; She says that managers only allowed employees to stop working outside of their traditional vacation period if they were externally showing signs of heat exhaustion. Now, the union says the company is firing employees who opted to walk out.
Jose Luis Espindola, a former Voodoo Donut employee, began feeling the effects of heat exhaustion early Thursday. “I got heat exhaustion the week before, and even I wasn’t suffering the most,” Espindola said in a Donut Workers United press release. “Others were suffering even more and that was enough to take action.”
spinola Told willamette week That a human resources representative contacted him when he arrived at work on Tuesday eventually fired him for “quitting the job.” According to the union, the company has fired two other employees who went out during the strike. the union A GoFundMe. Make For workers affected by strike
Voodoo Donut spokeswoman Audrey Linkoff says Voodoo Donut “does not provide employment details about current or former employees,” and did not comment specifically on recent claims made by employees.
While only four employees have been fired in response to the weekend strike, Donut Workers United expects more employees to be fired as the week continues. “The right to strike for unsafe working conditions is protected under the National Labor Relations Act,” says Mark Medina, a union organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World. “What the company is doing is completely illegal, and no one should be expected to work in unsafe conditions.”
According to Bryce, this isn’t the first time the company has fired employees who took part in a union action; She named three other famous union employees who were fired before the NRLB election. Medina says the union is planning legal challenges for firing, as well as protests, picketing and other direct actions against the management of Voodoo Donut. “The company is operating on the assumption that because they are not legally compelled to interact with their employees, workers do not have collective rights,” he says. “We’re not going away, this issue isn’t going away anytime soon. We’re going to move on immediately.”
Voodoo Donut remains open for business in Old Town.
• Voodoo Donut [Official]
• Donut Workers United [Facebook]
• DWU Strike and Hardship Fund June 2021 [GFM]
• As refrigerators break and air conditioners falter, Portland restaurants battle rising temperatures to stay open [EPDX]
• Voodoo Donut workers allege that management fired three employees after their strike on Sunday [WWeek]