Some US workers are breaking from generally accepted union procedures to respond to coronavirus-related risks.
While Voodoo Doughnut is known for its kitschy pastry designs and lines of hungry tourists, as the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting down businesses in the state, the doughnut chain’s staff started drawing attention. On March 20, employees from the newly formed Voodoo Doughnut Workers Union (VWU) delivered a letter to management announcing the formation of a union and demanding higher wages, safety improvements and severance packages for employees laid off because of the coronavirus and Oregon’s ongoing “shelter-in-place” order.
What they did is significant because it breaks from generally accepted union procedures in the United States and may serve as a blueprint for how employees will respond to virus-related risks in the workplace. Instead of first going through the arduous process of a union election and contract negotiations, these workers used pressure tactics to push their bosses to meet their demands directly.
“We want a security guard stationed at the Old Town location. We want severance pay and access to our [paid time off] when we’re laid off. We want hazard pay, and we want a living wage,” Katherine Nadj told Al Jazeera. She loves her job but says working conditions are difficult. She’s been decorating doughnuts at the takeout shop for two and a half years. Voodoo Doughnut’s busy downtown location continues to operate despite Oregon’s stay-at-home orders because it provides what safety officials consider an “essential” service, though many of its workers, including Katherine, face layoffs.