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Union sees potential gains in organizing lottery deli workers

The Dotty’s lottery deli chain fended off a union organizing drive last week at its Beaverton outlet, but it may not spell the end of the matter.

Workers there voted 3 to 1 against a unionization bid by Local 114 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, says Terry Lansing, the Portland local’s secretary treasurer. Lansing hasn’t decided if he will contest the election results, though, as allowed under federal labor law if there are allegations of employer misconduct.

At least a couple of the workers had a change of heart about voting for union representation after attending mandatory meetings organized by the employer, Lansing says.

Jeff Chicoine, attorney for Dotty’s owner Oregon Restaurant Services Inc., says the union vote demonstrates that the workers enjoy their jobs.

“When the employees received some information from Oregon Restaurant Services about what it means to be union or non-union, clearly three out of four didn’t think it made sense to join the union, and supported the company,” Chicoine says.

However, Lansing still sees potential in organizing Oregon’s large number of lottery delis, after a recent breakthrough unionizing the first one. Workers at the Doozy’s in Wilsonville approached the union last September to represent them, and the union won a formal election in November by a 3-1 vote, Lansing says.

He’s since had four negotiating sessions to forge a collective bargaining agreement with Doozy’s parent company in Eugene, Jasper Food Management. “We believe we can get a contract,” Lansing says.

Jasper’s has 37 lottery delis in Oregon, Lansing says, which also go by the name of Ashley’s, Purple Parrot, Cooper’s and others.

“These are minimum-wage workers who have very little to lose by going union, and a lot to gain,” Lansing says. “They have no health or welfare benefits,” he adds, and job security is their top concern.

The lottery delis are lucrative businesses, and their contracts with the Oregon State Lottery mean they should be intent on following labor laws, Lansing says. “Now we have a situation where lottery workers — deli workers — have an opportunity to improve their lives.”

Mike Chamberlin, who is negotiating with the union as chief financial officer of Jasper Food Management, declined an interview. In an email statement, he wrote that talks were “progressing,” and any future union drives at his company’s lottery delis are up to the employees.

“The reality is only 1.5 percent of restaurant and tavern employees in the country have chosen to unionize,” Chamberlin wrote. “The numbers suggest that the vast majority of hospitality employees would rather negotiate directly with their employers, rather than pay a union to negotiate on their behalf. My sense is that employees find unionizing mostly adds an unhelpful layer of bureaucracy.”

Most unions don’t get involved in such small bargaining units. But Lansing says his union will go wherever workers show an interest.

Local 114 has 1,150 members, representing workers at Portland-area bakeries operated by Franz, Oroweat, Kroger and Safeway. In addition, the union represents workers at two small dental practices plus 150 in-store bakeries, which typically only employ one to two members per store.

Chicoine says the union’s bid to organize the lottery deli industry lost steam with last week’s election at the Beaverton Dotty’s.

“They got a toehold at Doozy’s and that’s all they got,” he says.