Portillo’s employees to vote on unionizing

The workers at a company site in Addison, where there was a brief strike in 2021, will decide Thursday whether to join the ironworkers union.

SHARE Portillo’s employees to vote on unionizing
Fernando Jimenez addresses a union rally Thursday outside Portillo’s food production center at 380 S. Rohlwing Road, Addison.

Fernando Jimenez addresses a union rally Thursday outside Portillo’s food production center at 380 S. Rohlwing Road, Addison.

Shelly Ruzicka/Arise Chicago

Portillo’s, a purveyor of Chicago-style hot dogs and other local favorites, has a Chicago-style labor issue on its hands.

Workers at the company’s food preparation center in Addison will vote Thursday on whether to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board scheduled the election after the employees showed interest in joining the Iron Workers Union, formally called the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union.

Brenda Bedolla, organizer for the union, said the proposed bargaining unit would cover 49 people. They cook and slice beef and peppers, make gravy, ship and receive orders, and perform other functions to serve Portillo’s Chicago-area restaurants.

Fernando Jimenez, a forklift driver at Addison and an organizer of the union drive, said workers want a contract that will guarantee better wages and benefits, more vacation time and paid sick days. He said there are no paid sick days.

Jimenez said the company has waged an intense anti-union campaign, forcing employees into meetings almost daily. But he said there have been no threats of firings.

He said the union drive is an outgrowth of the workers’ independent organizing in 2021 that included a brief strike. They demanded better pay and safer working conditions during the pandemic.

“We got an increase in pay out of that, and management promised to continue listening to us. Those words have meant nothing,” Jimenez said. He spoke in Spanish, and Bedolla translated his comments.

Jimenez, a Portillo’s worker for 33 years, said most employees earn about $16.50 to $17 an hour. The organizing drive does not include workers at the restaurants.

A public relations firm answered an emailed inquiry to Portillo’s with this statement: “Just as we are committed to creating an unrivaled culture by living our values of family, greatness, energy, and fun at Portillo’s, we are proud of the competitive pay, career growth and development opportunities, and outstanding benefits – including health insurance, a wellness program, learning resources, meal benefits, and reward and recognition programs – that we provide for everyone who works here. It’s our commitment to listen to our team members and act in their best interest.”

Bedolla said the campaign marks the first time the Iron Workers Union has organized food service staff. Unions identified with specific trades have organized outside of those ranks to build bargaining strength and dues revenue.

Oak Brook-based Portillo’s has been a publicly traded company since October 2021.

“Now that Portillo’s is public, its wages are stagnant,” Jimenez said. When it was private, the now 60-year-old company used to provide small raises every six months, if just 25 cents an hour, he said.

Arise Chicago, a faith-based group that supports worker rights, assisted the workers in organizing.

Portillo’s reports having 72 locations in 10 states. Most are located in northeast Illinois.

The company has said it wants to expand its number of outlets by 10% per year, up to about 600 locations in the U.S.

“Expansion is great,” Bedolla said. “But we don’t think it’s fine if they’re doing it on the backs of workers who helped build the company.”

The Latest
The city is reopening the Roseland Mental Health Center and adding mental health services at the Chicago Department of Public Health vaccine clinic in Pilsen and at the Legler Library in Garfield Park.
One thing we know: Manager Pedro Grifol enjoys job security in Jerry Reinsdorf’s world.
Daniel Gonzalez-Munguia is being held in Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center and faces up to 60 years in prison.
During the 2019 Gold Cup final against the United States and a 2022 friendly vs. Honduras, Mexico fans chanted a homophobic slur at the opposing goalkeeper.
Barely speaking above a whisper and fighting tears, Desiree Figueroa told Judge Peggy Chiampas that she was sorry. “I could never apologize for what I did enough at all,” she said. “That’s all, judge, thank you.”