By Dee Longfellow
After Portillo’s production workers in Addison won their union election on Thursday, April 13, despite complaints that there was “significant company intimidation,” workers held a press conference on Saturday, April 15 at Portillo’s flagship Chicago restaurant at 100 W. Ontario (at Clark St.) in downtown Chicago.
Attending the press conference were unionized Portillo’s food production workers (members of Iron Workers Local 853), along with Illinois State Rep. Norma Hernandez, other Local 853 representatives, individuals from Arise Chicago and members of the faith community. Arise Chicago is an organization in Chicago that partners with workers and faith communities to fight workplace injustice through education, organizing and advocating for public policy changes, according to the Arise Chicago web site.
The purpose of the press conference was to demand Portillo’s begin bargaining and to call for public support to ensure Portillo’s comes to the bargaining table and does not “revert back” to what workers said were “intimidation tactics.”
According to a statement released by Arise Chicago, Portillo’s production workers in Addison came to Arise Chicago in June 2021, reporting unsafe conditions due to low staffing levels during the pandemic, forcing workers to unsafely perform double or triple the work without any wage increase. When workers requested to meet with management to discuss their working conditions, the workers said management refused to meet with them as a group and allegedly told the workers “If you don’t like it, go home.”
With support from Arise Chicago, in July 2021, workers went on a one-week unfair labor practice strike, in spite of management’s alleged threats. Out of 25 employees at the Addison facility, 17 participated in the work stoppage, which lasted from June 28 to July 5. Most of the demonstrators told reporters they have been with Portillo’s for more than a decade. Portillo’s reportedly hired temp employees to help with food service over the 4th of July holiday.
Upon return, workers won wage increases of $1-$2 an hour.
Since then, Arise Chicago said workers have continued organizing, leading to their decision to form a union with the Iron Workers, who recently filed for an NLRB union election. Workers won their election for representation by the Iron Workers union on Thursday, April 13.
According to Arise Chicago, during their organizing drive, workers told Arise Chicago that they faced “an onslaught of company intimidation, false claims, mandatory captive audience meetings, and retaliation.” Arise Chicago reportedly filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, according to a story in In These Times.
Details of the press conference on Saturday, April 15 were not available at press time.
[Some details in this story were obtained from an article published on July 8, 2021, in “In These Times,” an independent publication in Chicago. Info: inthesetimes.com.]