For 10:30 am on a Friday, the crowd just swelled beyond expectations on the corner of 26th and Foster in East Portland. From union organizers to community groups, local activists to retirees, more than fifty supporters came together to stand with the Portland Solidarity Network (PDXSol) and Andrew Bobrek against the abuses he has alleged at his former workplace.
Andrew was a former employee of Foster Auto Parts who was fired on November 12th after attempting to form a union with his co-workers. Bobrek was approached by his manager and informed that he was overheard giving his “two-week’s notice,” which he had not, then was fired and escorted off the premises. After he was aggressively forced out, Bobrek says that his co-workers were then told that they were not allowed to discuss their wages with each other and “not allowed to form a union.”
Now, Foster Auto Parts are contesting his unemployment claim, asserting that he had actually quit instead of being fired. Bobrek claims he was targeted for a previous whistleblower action concerning OSHA safety violations at Foster Auto Parts, as well as for advocating a raise management had told employees they were entitled after excess workloads. Bobrek also alleges that he was disallowed complete breaks so that he and other co-workers could finish the excessive workload that was added after some positions were terminated.
“It was a clear violation of our civil rights as employees and as United States citizens,” said Bobrek to a crowd of supporters. “I read our rights to my co-workers, about our rights to unionize, [which are] to talk about it. We could even wear buttons. We could hand out flyers. I told them all that and they were for it, they wanted a union. They havn’t seen a raise in seven years.”
Andrew Bobrek has decided to stand up to his former employer, and is being supported by the Portland Solidarity Network in demanding that they stop contesting the unemployment claims and pay the back amount that is owed for the additional work performed without the promised raise.
He led the crowd two blocks down the road as they sternly entered Foster Auto Parts, which has a large commercial area besides their service garages. There, he read out a “demand letter” that explained his situation, and what he expected from his former boss.
It is the responsibility of Foster Auto Parts and its parent company, LKQ Corporation, to ensure a safe working environment,” declared Bobrek, voice booming through a megaphone. “This means that occupational safety is taken seriously, workers are paid the amount management says they will receive, and that workers are not targeted for exercising their legal rights to organize. We expect this matter to be resolved shortly, in a period of no more than fourteen days, or else further action will be taken.”
Once he finished and handed over the letter to a floor manager, she began to demand that the crowd move out of the “private property.” A rhythmic clap and the chant “we’ll be back” quickly silenced her voice. The owner, who had previously claimed not to be in that day, ran out of his office with an aggressive posture as the crowd left, giving Andrew an opportunity to put the demand letter directly in this hand.
Reconvening down the road, Andrew spoke up to thank the crowd for showing the kind of support that is unprecedented for so many workers. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me. To see people caring about other people.”
Now Andrew and the Portland Solidarity Network will wait for Foster Auto Part’s response, which will determine where the campaign will go next. The model that PDXSol and other solidarity networks use is to create “escalation campaigns” when a tenant or worker is wronged and to support that person to do things such as picket, call in, or other public actions that can expose the abuses that they have experienced.