Queer Solidarity During Crisis: An Interview With The Crush Bar Workers Collective 

“Crush Bar is an ordinary bar with an extraordinary community.”

The Crush Bar Workers Collective (CBWC) is an organization of queer service industry workers based in Portland, Oregon. On March 17th, following the layoffs of all 27 workers at Crush Bar and their sister business, Woody’s Coffee Tavern, workers at both businesses organized a sit-in to demand payment for lost hours and sick leave. After winning accrued sick time payouts, the workers continued to organize solidarity efforts to support one another amidst the Coronavirus crisis. From delivering food boxes to fundraising over $6,000 in a GoFundMe campaign, these workers have shown how our survival, especially in queer communities, is reliant upon solidarity. 

GO spoke with Alex Palmer (they/them), a three-year employee of Crush Bar and bartender; Hannah Gioia (she/her), an eight-month employee of Crush Bar and line cook; Emily Bennett (she/they), a three-year barista of Woody’s Coffee Tavern; and Ignacio Fuentes (he/him), a one year employee of Crush bar and bartender. 

GO Magazine: What is the Crush Bar Workers Collective? 

Hannah: The Crush Bar Workers Collective started organizing in October of 2019. This manifested in biweekly union meetings, frequent majority staff signed petitions, a staff held all-staff meeting (as opposed to management held), and an organized sit-in. We have since gone public with our union and formally affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). 

Given that bars and restaurants are indefinitely closed due to state mandates, the CBWC is not currently organizing around working conditions. Instead, our focus and capacities have been spent on mutual aid and care networks to support one another through the pandemic and its continued financial repercussions. However, the push for guaranteed rehires for all 27 workers of Crush Bar and Woody’s Coffee Tavern is that which enables us workers to start organizing around our working conditions again, and it will be the first task at hand when there’s an indication that businesses will be allowed to reopen.

GO: Tell me about Crush Bar. It’s a three-time winner of the “Best LGBTQ Bar in Portland” — something that I do think is significant in Portland. 

Alex: Crush Bar is just an ordinary bar with an extraordinary Community. I’ve joked in the past that the only reason we win Best Bar and Best LGBT Bar is because we have a cult following. I remember going to Crush just as a customer when I was maybe 22 with a date, and the staff making me feel like I could be myself and have fun and still be safe. At the time, I still hadn’t come to terms with being trans and seeing the desirable and capable staff of varying identities showed me how I could be. It’s very common for staff to get off shift and drink with customers, and that really cements friendships and bonds. I can’t put into words how addicting the feelings of freedom and love we as a community give to each other. Anybody who sits down in those patio chairs regularly enough is part of that community but the workers are the keystone of the community.

GO: How do you think being majority queer impacts your organizing? 

Ignacio: Being queer and organizing a queer space adds vigor to our efforts and makes us strive to do better. It is a reflection of our community.

There was a pre-existing sense of community in our workplace, but not as strong as it has become through organizing. Crush Bar is widely recognized as a place for solidarity within the queer community in Portland. Our efforts in organizing mirror the community and have strengthened the bond that the workers have built within that community.

GO: Do the stakes feel higher for you all as queer workers? 

Alex: Absolutely! That’s why we listed guaranteed rehires back onto Crush as one of our demands because we know queer individuals have a hard time getting hired and experience workplace harassment in disproportionate numbers. Concerns like homelessness, increased illness rates, and increased poverty among queer people is what powers our organizing.

GO: What’s it like organizing in Portland, a city that’s thought to be progressive and queer-friendly? 

Emily: There has been some tension between members of the queer community who frequent Crush and disagree with the work the CBWC is doing. Because Crush especially has been known to be a safe haven for queer folks in Portland and hires mostly LGBTQ folks, some think we are asking for too much or are ruining the reputation of a popular queer boss and space. 

GO: What does the majority of your work look like at this moment? 

Hannah: Currently, as all 27 employees of Crush Bar and Woody’s Coffee Tavern have been laid off, the CBWC has turned toward establishing and formalizing care networks. 

Alex: Those of us with cars have offered rides for groceries, to medical offices, et cetera. And have folks working on making masks so as to minimize infection risks when we do have to go out. Some of us have bunked up together to make sure everyone has a roof over their heads. We all have each other’s backs.

It’s important because it’s the community and us doing it. It’s the workers and patrons coming together and showing how caring and united we are. It shows that when people come together they can create real change and that it’s the workers who have value and power.

Long term, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing; fighting for our rights and fair working conditions. We workers have a voice, and we will make sure it is heard. If you’d like to support the efforts of the CBWC they are still accepting funds on their GoFundMe Campaign.

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