Employees at Voodoo Doughnuts announced that they are unionizing on Friday, coinciding with management’s decision to lay off dozens of employees due to the financial impact of the coronavirus.
Samantha Bryce, an employee at Voodoo’s downtown Portland location, told the Mercury that workers have been making plans to unionize since last June, hoping to change what they see as low pay and unsafe conditions for employees working late-night shifts. But the spread of COVID-19 is bringing a new urgency to their efforts. Bryce said about 20 employees were laid off at the downtown location this week, and layoffs at the Northeast Portland location began on Thursday evening. According to Bryce, Voodoo management is not honoring its own practices regarding paying out accrued paid time off.
“[Laid-off workers] were given no severance, and no access to PTO that they had been allotted at the beginning of the year,” said Bryce, who still has her job mixing dough, decorating doughnuts, and working the cash register. “They are sending staff home, and refusing to let staff be paid out their PTO, even though that’s something that’s always been allowed to us. So they are changing and twisting the rules to PTO.”
The Mercury has reached out to Voodoo management for comment, and will update this post if we hear back.
On Monday, Gov. Kate Brown ordered all Oregon restaurants to suspend dine-in services for at least four weeks, and only stay open for takeout and delivery. Voodoo has removed its indoor and outdoor seating, but continues to serve customers who want to pick up doughnuts.
But the long customer lines Voodoo is famous for have disappeared, Bryce said. According to Bryce, Voodoo management is blaming the lack of PTO payouts on the drop in business. Voodoo has two locations in Portland, one in Eugene, and six others in California, Florida, Colorado, and Texas.
“The way they’re explaining all this is saying the company is hurting for money,” Bryce said. “Which I find to be an unlikely situation considering how much these locations typically make throughout the year, and the success of their Houston location that they opened just recently. … They’re such an established company for so many years now, and have been very open about how much money they make.”
Bryce and other Voodoo employees plan to announce their unionizing efforts to management at noon on Friday, and ask to “meet at the bargaining table to discuss further.” They are unionizing as Voodoo Doughnut Workers Union, an affiliate Portland’s chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
Voodoo is hardly the only well-known Portland business to abruptly lay off employees because of the coronavirus. Powell’s Books laid off the majority of its staff on Tuesday, and local LGBTQ+ bar Crush shuttered without paying its employees for their accrued sick days, prompting the employees to stage a sit-in. Almost 3,000 people have lost their jobs with McMenamins this week.
Bryce plans to continue working at Voodo for as long as she is able, despite concerns for her own health.
“The staff is very worried about the possibility of getting the coronavirus,” she said. “But on the other hand, a lot of the staff lives paycheck to paycheck, and needs income regardless. So we of course keep coming to work as best as we can.”
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