Restaurant Workers United organizer Crystal Maher speaks at a labor rally Aug. 7 near the restaurant’s North Campus location (Photo by John Anderson)
On Thursday August 4, more than 75% of workers in three Via 313 sites – Oak Hill, Eastside and North Campus – have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize. The decision comes after almost a year of behind-the-scenes planning, further spurred by the company’s COVID response.
At a Sunday rally at the North Campus location, the organizer Henry Eppersonemployed since November 2021, told the the Chronicle tensions with management came to a head during the Omicron wave “six or seven months ago. We were all getting COVID, we asked for hazard pay. The company said no” and suspended four workers who asked for better communication COVID Protocols. Workers protested Jan. 8 outside the North Campus store — “We stormed out and rehired them.” But since then, workers say, the communication has fallen on deaf ears.
Instead of joining an existing union, workers target the new United Restoration Workers being the union specific to the restaurant industry for all: “There are a few restaurants that are unionized – hotels or airports that have bigger contracts,” says Epperson. “But for us, just normal restaurant workers, we don’t really have a voice to represent ourselves. So we wanted to create our own.”
In addition to COVID-related safety issues, RWU intends to negotiate over issues with wage theft, Planningand advantages. “We’re looking at our hours and it doesn’t match up, people are missing hundreds of dollars…being consistently over- and under-scheduled despite numerous attempts to contact management.” Union members say the company is more focused on franchising in Utah than preserving the working environment of their flagship Austin stores. “We first presented these issues to them as individuals, and then we kind of realized that it was better for us to stick together, and now they are finally listening to us,” Epperson says. JJ, an employee at the Eastside site, says problems are endemic to the business. “Like my manager in particular, I think they’re doing a great job. A lot of that stuff is really just above them.”
“This industry is something I’ve been around almost my entire life,” Epperson says. “So I’ve seen some of the good things. But I’ve also seen the dark side. There are definitely a lot of issues with exploitation. So I think we need to organize and fight for our rights in these jobs. .”