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May 7, 2024 28 mins

Mia talks with Janie and Sol from Fried Egg Works Union about unionizing Portland staple Fried Egg I'm In Love, why workers should unionize preemptively, and the challenges and advantages of unionizing small businesses

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Also media, welcome to take it up. And here a
podcast that is I don't know, I'm gonna, I'm gonna.
I'm gonna speak for the rest of my hosts who
aren't here so they can't stop me and say that
this is a podcast normally opposed to brunch. I'm your host,
Miya Wong, And today we are talking about something that

we kind of haven't been covered, we haven't covered as
much as I think we should have, which is unionization
in small businesses. We've talked a lot about unization and
sort of larger things. We've talked about sort of mid
mid sized chains. But today we're talking about the unionization
of a place called Friday Egg I'm in Love in
Portland's which it's it's if if if you sort of

imagine the platonic ideal of what do you think a
place called Friday Egg I'm in Love is going to
be like it is in fact that And with me
to talk about this is Soul and Janey from the
Friday Egg Workers Union. Yeah, both of you, welcome to
the show.

Speaker 2 (01:02):
Thank you so much.

Speaker 3 (01:04):
Yeah, thanks for having us.

Speaker 1 (01:05):
Yeah, I'm excited to talk about this partially, you know,
I mean as you've sort of discussed a little bit
because I want to get into a bit later the
specific dynamics of sort of small business union stuff. But
first things first, I wanted to sort of talk about what, actually,
you know, how did you all decide to unionize, because
I think this is a bit different story than the

kind of thing we usually get on this show.

Speaker 2 (01:30):
Absolutely well, I've been at this particular restaurant since twenty
nineteen and it's been something that's come up every now
and then. I think we're just a very queer workplace.
We're a very leftist workplace, and we tend to have
a lot of common ideals. And I feel like what

makes our unionization effort unique or maybe not unique, but
just different than a lot of like we need to
start a union right now all kind of efforts is
there wasn't a thing that caused it. We were all
like me and five other people were just sitting around
a table and decided, Hey, we should just start a union,

and so we kind of looked into what that looks
like and the snowball started rolling downhill.

Speaker 1 (02:18):
Yeah, and this is something I think is really interesting
because you know, I mean, one of one of the
things you get really commonly in sort of like anti
union propaganda. You see this, like I so a lot
of my family were engineers, right, and engineers do this
all the time where they're like, oh, we don't need
a union. We're like happy, we're well paid, everything's great.
And then you know, you look at you, you look
at what happens to them, and it's like, oh, well
now you have boeing Right, It's like, well, you you will,

you will, you all never organized, you no longer have
any power in your planes are like falling from the sky.
So yeah, this this is a I'm gonna I'm taking this,
taking my soapbox moment to be like you two out there,
even if your job is good, at some point it's
going to not be and you should unionize first before
they i don't know, like be google and decide that

I don't be evil. Actually constrains them from making money
and decide to be evil, So get get out ahead
of them before.

Speaker 2 (03:11):
I couldn't agree.

Speaker 3 (03:12):
More absolutely, this has felt very, very proactive. I haven't
been there nearly nearly as long as some of my comrades,
but the general like consensus is that like things are
pretty good. So instead of letting things go bad. Let's

let's make you know, major steps to protect what we have,
especially as like you kind of notice how this small
business is slowly, slowly starting to operate like not a
small business mm hm.

Speaker 2 (03:51):
And we had a one of our food carts was
upgraded to a brick and mortar at the beginning of
this year, and pretty much that in that moment that
that started operating as a real restaurant, it things really
clearly I think started setting in that like that this

is a bigger operation than it used to be, and
they very like the owner very much still has the
intention of making it as good of a place to
work as he can, which is to be appreciated. But
it's also understandable that as things start to grow, it's
a lot better if it's a collaborative process in terms

of making it the best place to work that it
can be. And I think getting a seat at the
table is something that we have to make for ourselves,
but it doesn't necessarily have to be a threat or
a retaliation.

Speaker 1 (04:54):
This is something I think is kind of important with unionizing,
especially places that are kind of you know, like or
you know, we're even where the sort of the boss
is legitimately trying to like do the right thing, which
like it's kind of true of like my work, right,
like you know, like the people above my bosses are
kind of a fiasco, but like my immediate like bosses

are like you know, it's Robert and Sophie, right, Like
they're pretty chill. But you know, like like one of
the dynamics that sets in is like, you know, it's
not what the actual conditions are, isn't necessarily always going
to be under their control, even if you know, like
even if they want to do the right thing, and

the demands of things like scale and you know, the
demands of sort of market competition have this sort of
disciplining effect on what, you know, like what what your
working conditions can be if you're going to sort of
compete with like I don't know, you're you're like doughnut
shop that like torches is union workers, right.

Speaker 2 (05:56):
You know for example, Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 3 (06:01):
Pure purely abstract, purely abstract. Yeah, absolutely, you know, seeing
a shop of you know, twelve become you know, two shops,
a food car and a commissary kitchen of thirty five,
that definitely, you know, it's just pushing the business in

a direction very naturally. It feels very much like a
part of how systems work, even if our even if
your owner has really good intentions, just the nature of
like how capitalism works is uh starts to change things
as Yeah at scale for sure.

Speaker 1 (06:54):
Yeah, And that that gets into something else that I'm.

Speaker 3 (06:56):
Sort of interested in.

Speaker 1 (06:57):
How the sort of unionizing process went. This is a
very I mean, I guess going from twelve to thirty
five is a big increase in the number of people,
but that's still a very small shop. So can you
talk a bit about what it's been like kind of
organizing in you know, I mean organizing a number of
people that you can very easily fit into a room.

Speaker 2 (07:17):
It's been interesting and it's been exciting in that way
because we are able to cram into a room and
the energy is very palpable and so like inspiring momentum
to get shit done in each other has been really
really wonderful in that way. But I think also it's

it makes it easy for us to be very tactical
with how we are handling this process, where we're making
sure that at all four locations there's a majority, if
not unanimous, approval and support and membership in the union.
And the more that the more that I'm meeting union

organizers and union reps and people from IWW, the more
that I'm realizing we're in a situation where we can
establish some really lovely precedent for similar workplaces who want
to start a union, who are about the same size
as us, or even like neighbors in our like on

the on the streets that are locations are at where
we can do things like there's not enough precedent in
the IWW for a service industry in general, but particularly
it's it's very common to be in the negotiating process
and one of the things that will be offered to

the employer in exchange for whatever you're negotiating on is
like a no strike clause, like okay, we'll just we'll
give this to you of like we're just not gonna
be able just to strike for the duration of our contract,
and so exchange we can get some other stuff that
we're asking for. But because we have such a strong majority,

and in all four locations we have a strong majority,
I think we're currently planning on keeping the right to strike.
Hell yeah, and you know we're not planning on it
I hope that we don't ever have to do that,
but just having that as precedent I think will help

our community and other similar unions.

Speaker 1 (09:32):
Yeah, absolutely, I think. You know, this is something that
going back to if you look at the sort of
heyday of American unionism, if you look at like the
fifty sixty seventies, like those contracts didn't have no strike
clauses in them. Some of them did, so sometimes it
was like a federal thing. But the thing about no
strike clauses is that it makes you know, we've talked

about this a bit before on the show, but one
of the sort of issues when you have a union
is like, okay, so even if you get a contract right,
and that usually takes that takes a long time, takes
a lot of fighting, the company is immediately going to
start trying to violate the contract. And so you know,
your your contract is only as strong as your ability
to enforce it. And you know, one of a really

really good way to enforce it is by being able
to go on strike. But normally, like yeah, people aren't
organized enough to actually like fight their employers on it,
and so it just ends up being a kind of
standard part of contracts, and yeah, it's really exciting that
y'all are committing to fight for that from the beginning,
because it's it's it's hard, it's it's not an easy

thing to do.

Speaker 2 (10:34):
Now, the more I learn about how unions operate, the
more I'm realizing that, you know, it doesn't necessarily stop
people from getting fired, it doesn't necessarily stop people from having,
you know, injustice happened upon them. But it just gives
you the ability to fight in the first place. And
I think a lot of employers who are facing a

workplace who are wanting to unionize, like recognizing that it's
it's it's not like a threat. It's not like, Okay,
we're uh, we're going to have this union and everyone's
going to go on strike the next day and our
business is going to tank. But it's they're just asking
for the right to to have a better negotiating seat.

Speaker 1 (11:21):
Yeah, this is something I actually think it's really interesting
about this campaign where there's this really kind of I
don't know, I think if you're able to build a
precedent of being able to negotiate a contract that doesn't
have no strike clause that allows you to go on strike, whatever,
you know, whenever you want is something that is like

characteristic of liking of you know, of a of an
incredibly militant shop. But I think if you can, if
you can actually get the precedent of you know, having
companies treat this as normal, because it's something that should
be normal, right like this, this is how a lot
of the US used to work, right it used to
be you were on like an auto line assembly line,

there'd be there be a guy in a back with
a whistle and if and if you know, if a
contract violation happened, or like you know, if if the
company is asking you to do something that you aren't
you know that you're not like contractually obligated to do
the person would you know, the union person would blow
the whistle, immediate strike, the entire assembly line goes down,
and you know, it turns out you actually can run
a completely functional like economy like this. But the kind

of the mentality of the people who own who own
businesses right now is that you should never at any point,
like you know, you should never at any point let
your workers do anything at all. You should immediately fight
them at the moment they try to unionize. And I
think you know, having a president of like you know,
of of being able to get this kind of stuff

without immediately having to launch, like you know, like immediate
immediately kick off a series of strikes with your employer.
Is is a good one? Is a good one to.

Speaker 3 (12:58):
Set that we have so many people that are super
interested in like being a part of this organizing effort
because because we all like being there, like I think
is huge in comparison to like lots of stories that
we hear about and yeah, really wanting to like bring
that to the restaurant industry because yeah, that's unions are

you know, criminally under recognized within service work. Yeah, and
arguably an industry that needs it the most.

Speaker 1 (13:31):
Yep, yep. Well, and that's the other exciting thing about
this shop is that you know, you're talking about sort
of like they're not being enough service organizing with it
with the IWW. And that's true of like basically all
unions because and especially shops at your scale, because you know,
a lot of these unions are using like a very
kind of crude cross cost benefit analysis and their their

assessment is like, well, why should we bother to organize
like this shop that has thirty five people at it
because you know, this is it like we're like the
amount of dews money we're going to get out of
it is like not you know, is not is not
worth the effort. But on the other hand, you know,
like do you know how many workers there are, like
how many of these like how many of these tiny

shops across the there are across the entire country that
if you know, and if everyone just refuses to organize them,
then you're leaving like tens of millions of workers just
sort of like screwed.

Speaker 3 (14:24):
Yeah. I can't speak for all IWW, but I know,
like talking with like the Portland branch definitely mirrors our
shop and at like how queer and leftist it is.
And is that surprising that they're working with the IWW
or with the Coalition of Independent Unions which is a

Pacific Northwest like union for unions kind of thing. It's
not surprising that like our values are aligned and it's
like making making for something like really fun and like
you know, setting a new kind of industry standard for
service industry.

Speaker 1 (15:00):
Yeah. Unfortunately, speaking of industry standards, I have to go
to an ad break. It's in my contract somewhere probably,
although I don't think my employers have read my contract
in a long time. But you know, such are the
dictates of a podcast that that your senior bosses don't
listen to. Yeah, we will return in however long the

ads are and we are back, So okay. Another thing
that I kind of wanted to talk about is what

has it sort of been like in terms of, like,
you know, so like, how how has you know, in
a shop that's like this small? How has the sort
of like organizing conversations gone right, Like is everyone just
sort of close enough that you know, you were able
to kind of do this organically, or was there still
sort of a like mapping process for all of the
shops or.

Speaker 2 (16:04):
Well, luckily it has gone pretty smoothly. But we were
advised early on to create an interest map where we
go through the list of every coworker that we have
and talk about like how well do we know them?
Do we think they would be down? Like, well, this
person would obviously be down. This person, I guess we'll

just have to talk to them and see and apart
from a few cases, it has been very successful and
easy so far. It's really lucky that almost all of
our coworkers our comrades.

Speaker 3 (16:39):
Yeah, I think like our first like conversation was I
think about ten people at like a bar close to
like the main Hawthorn shop, and like once we had
like that get together. Yeah, it really became about, like,
you know, how do we get our satellite locations, you know,
on this on the same page, you know, with like
a super majority at one shop, you know, then just

moving on to you know our little you know, the
Pioneer food cart and then our Commissary kitchen and then
the Mississippi location. That was just you know, hiring a
whole new staff for and you know, getting them in
you know, collecting them into the fold. And yeah, I
ww was very helpful and like how to like kind

of create those processes to like ensure that you know,
we were approaching people in the right way. And yeah,
it getting a proper headcount.

Speaker 1 (17:34):
Yeah that can be a disaster. Yeah, oh god, Like
my union, we're still trying to hash out whether some
people are in the union or not, and like people
will leave the company. Then this happens all the time, right,
Like one of the things you discovered really quickly when
you need a union organizing is that your like management

doesn't actually know how anything works, or like even who's
working for them and what they do. They have absolutely
no idea, and so you have to do their job
and figure out what everyone does.

Speaker 3 (18:07):
What management would be so mad at you for saying, you.

Speaker 1 (18:13):
Know, look if they if they did, if they didn't
want me to talk negatively about they should pay me more.
They simply do not any of us enough. That's not
universal from time to time. Yeah, yeah, but I think
that you know, what's what's interesting about the shop too,
is it really seems like y'all just sort of speed
ran doing a good campaign, Like you're doing all of

the things that that you you you get a good organizers,
but then you know, every once in a while you
just get a shop where it just kind of everything
just clicks and goes.

Speaker 2 (18:44):
It has been five months start to finish, which I
feel like is significantly faster than most.

Speaker 1 (18:51):
Yeah, most of.

Speaker 2 (18:51):
That is just down to that there aren't very many
of us, and so talking to everyone hasn't been that
crazy of an endeavor.

Speaker 1 (18:59):
Yeah, but.

Speaker 2 (19:02):
I think probably in the first meeting or two, we
just crunch the numbers and realized, Okay, we're not going
to have any trouble having a majority, but we have to,
and so the focus of our work went into making
sure we do it right and learning to inoculate people

and talk to people we haven't talked to yet and
people for whom it would be a little more sensitive
or more in depth conversation, and educating ourselves on what
starting a union actually looks like. And IWW has been
very helpful providing these little trainings that I've been able

to go to. It's funny that they're on Sunday afternoons
and so I'm pretty sure I'm the only person at
our brunch restaurant who doesn't work Sunday afternoons, so I've
been going to those.

Speaker 1 (19:53):
But yeah, this has something been like I don't know,
I feel like it should be a thing that so
I was at this will I guess we'll have come
out after the Labor Nights episode that I'm doing. But
something that I feel like I don't hear much discussion
of in union organizing that I feel like there should
be is like fighting management on scheduling and like trying

to fight for you know, people actually A having consistent
schedules and B not just having like I don't know,
like I know a lot of people who find out
their schedule on Facebook, like four hours before they have
to go in, right, Like, that's insane, that is that
is that is not a way for industrial process to function. Right.

Speaker 3 (20:41):
No, thankfully that has not been one of our issues
at least at least not systemically at Fredick.

Speaker 1 (20:49):
Yeah, but but it does make it hard to do
intro organizational training. Is because it's like everyone has weird
scheduling stuff going on, so it's it's hard to like,
I don't know, I feel like it's it's underrated. Barrier
to getting a lot of people from different unions to
work together, is that no one is ever off at
the same time.

Speaker 2 (21:08):
That's real.

Speaker 3 (21:09):
Yeah, absolutely, I know it's been weird. I think they're
a huge aspect of our success I think is that
we have been able to like I think the unique
part about the breakfast place is that it's not open
from you know, am to pm. It's not open from

ten am to eleven pm, like like a restaurant could
potentially be open. We are open for breakfast. We're done
at two on the weekdays, and adding in a standing
union meeting at four pm once a week was very

easy to add to everybody's schedule. I think. I think
in the nature of the breakfast place lent to that
working very very easily.

Speaker 2 (22:04):
Yeah, and our coworkers that maybe need a little more
persuasion that like, hey, no, don't worry this is this
is really happening, and you can be a part of it,
even if you know that their pro union. Kind of
getting the ball rolling with people sometimes takes a meeting
or two and being able to have the peer pressure
of like, hey, we're going to a meeting right now.

I know you're not doing anything after this, and I'll
give you a ride helps a lot because then they
go to their meeting and they're like, wow, that was awesome.
I never knew I could take control of my life
in any way.

Speaker 1 (22:40):
Yeah, that rules. There really is nothing like just being
in a place with a bunch of people who all
are trying to like actually do the thing, like you know.
I mean, I think this is why. You know, like,
as we're recording this, like a bunch of campus occupations
are going right, and I mean, I don't know, God,

hopefully by the time this comes out, they won't have
all died horribly because this is getting recorded on what day,
is it that April twenty eighth, so I and is
being released into like hell world. But yeah, you know,
I mean, I think one of one of the aspects
of of of those camps is that like you're just

there with a bunch of people who you get to
talk to and organize with. And it turns out that
actually being there face to face with a bunch of
people is just great. And that's that's the thing. That's
the thing. You can also like that you knows, as
much as like union work can just can be work, right,
it can be you sitting in front of a spreadsheet
and going, oh my god, what does this person respond

Like it's also I don't know, it's it's also like
it could be really great and I don't know, you should,
you dear listeners should experience it because it rules.

Speaker 2 (23:58):
I couldn't recommend it more. Is the best feeling in
the world, and Sol and I are addicted to it
to feel like you're actually doing anything real Hell yeah,
it's incredible.

Speaker 3 (24:13):
That's yeah. Something we heard from i W or i
w W friends is that like this, like, especially with
how early in the process we are, like how exciting
that is to like just get everybody, But everybody in
a room and I feel like we're all working towards
the same thing. Yeah, and that you do get addicted

to it. And that's often where the union organizers came from,
was like starting their own and they're like, oh, I
need to keep doing this.

Speaker 1 (24:49):
I think. I think that's a pretty good doe to
end on, unless you do have anything else that you
want to make sure we get you first.

Speaker 3 (24:55):
Yeah, with like how early in the process we are
after the comes out, like we will have like dropped
our authorization cards and like actually started like the formal process.
Like we're still pretty early on, but we already have
a fundraiser setup with like a local beer bar. We're
at Workers Sat. Hell yeah, and that's super exciting. And

we're building our socials and uh probably have a go
fundme for strike fundraiser. So yeah, early days, but very exciting,
very purposeful days.

Speaker 2 (25:33):
It's gonna be a big week.

Speaker 1 (25:35):
Hell yeah. Yeah. Where can people go to find the
union and go to support you all?

Speaker 2 (25:41):
Well, our socials are not live yet, but all right,
so yeah, this is this, this is has been recorded
before things go live, we will we will have the
links down there.

Speaker 3 (25:52):
Yeah. Yeah, we I think we're settling on the tag
the user name fried egg w U, which we are
saying foo about because you know, you gotta you gotta,
you gotta make you gotta make this fun. But yes,
we will be. Yeah, we will be sharing that with you.

Speaker 2 (26:10):
I'm glad you knew because I wasn't sure if if
we had a handle agreed upon yet. Yeah, we find
us on the socials Frida egg w.

Speaker 3 (26:20):
U with it being early days and like us not
even being public yet. I've built those accounts, but they're
not like not ready to go. So there's that, like
we're in this dead zone period where we're we've built
the infrastructure for a proper you know, the proper election,
even though we are very hopeful that our owner will

recognize us with you know, the majority that we have,
but yeah, we're our zero day is May Day, a
couple of days from now, and we are very excited
for that very much.

Speaker 1 (26:55):
So oh yeah, hopefully it goes well. It will be
in the past by time this comes out. But good
luck to both of you, and thank you both so
much for coming on.

Speaker 2 (27:05):
Another pleasure belongs to us. We're both fans for having
us on.

Speaker 1 (27:09):
Yeah, and yeah, does this has been naked happen here.
You too can go experience the joys of organizing your workplace.
So go go do that or go to a student occupation,
do both. I don't know. There's a lot going on.
There are many places for you to experience the joy
of organizing with other people, so go go do that.
And yeah, you can find us in the usual places.

I don't know. Sophie will probably be on it in
about one second. This ad pivot not whatever. Listen. This
has got completely off the rails. I have not had
enough sleepe no.

Speaker 3 (27:47):
Sleep for organizing.

Speaker 1 (27:53):
It could happen here as a production of cool Zone Media.

Speaker 3 (27:55):
For more podcasts from cool Zone Media, visit our website
cool zonemedia dot com, or check us out on the
iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Speaker 1 (28:04):
You can find sources for It could Happen here, updated
monthly at coolzonemedia dot com slash sources.

Speaker 3 (28:10):
Thanks for listening.

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