In a first, Starbucks workers agree to union in Buffalo, NY
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Starbucks workers have voted to unionize at a store in Buffalo, New York over the company’s objections, pointing the way to a new labor model for the 50-year old coffee giant.
The National Labor Relations Board said Thursday that workers voted 19-8 in favor of a union at one of three locations in Buffalo. A second store rejected the union in a vote of 12-8. A third store is still being counted.
If the labor board certifies the vote — a process expected to take about a week — it would be the first for any Starbucks-owned store in the U.S. to unionize. Starbucks has actively fought unionization at its stores for decades, saying its stores function best when it works directly with employees.
Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a viewing of their union election on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex/)
Workers watching the vote count over Zoom on a big screen at a union office in Buffalo erupted into cheers and chants of “Elmwood, Elmwood, Elmwood!” when the results of that location were announced, jumping up and down and hugging each other.
“We still made history,” barista Casey Moore told the others watching as it became clear the second store had voted down the union effort.
Workers at all three stores began voting by mail last month on whether they wanted to be represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
Starbucks employees and supporters watch as votes are read during a viewing party for their union election on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex/)
The National Labor Relations Board began counting ballots Thursday from union elections held at the stores. Around 111 Starbucks workers were eligible to vote by mail starting last month.
“Yes” votes could also accelerate unionization efforts at other U.S. Starbucks stores. Already, three more stores in Buffalo and a store in Mesa, Arizona, have filed petitions with the labor board for their own union elections. Those cases are pending.
Union backers at the first three Buffalo stores filed petitions with the labor board in August seeking representation by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Those workers say Starbucks’ stores had chronic problems like understaffing and faulty equipment even before the pandemic. They want more input on pay and store operations.
“We have no accountability right now. We have no say,” said Casey Moore, a union organizer who has been working at a Buffalo-area Starbucks for around six months. “With a union we will actually be able to sit down at the table and say, `This is what we want.’”
Starbucks insists its 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores function best when it works directly with its employees, which it calls “partners.” Many employees in the Buffalo area work at more than one store depending on demand, Starbucks says, and it wants to have the flexibility to move them between stores.
Starbucks asked the labor board to hold one vote with all 20 of its Buffalo-area stores, but the board rejected that request, saying store-by-store votes were appropriate under labor law.
In a letter to Starbucks’ U.S. employees this week, Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson reiterated the company’s wish to include all Buffalo-area stores in the union vote.
Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a union-election watch party on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex/)
“While we recognize this creates some level of uncertainty, we respect the process that is underway, and independent of the outcome in these elections, we will continue to stay true to our mission and values,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson also reminded employees of the company’s generous benefits, including paid parental and sick leave and free college tuition through Arizona State University. Late last month, the company also announced pay increases, saying all its U.S. workers will earn at least $15 — and up to $23 — per hour by next summer.
But backers of the union say Starbucks can do more.
“If Starbucks can find the money to pay their CEO nearly $15 million in compensation, I think maybe they can afford to pay their workers a decent wage with decent benefits,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a recent Twitter post. Sanders held a virtual town hall with Buffalo Starbucks workers earlier this week.
Johnson earned $14.7 million in salary and stock awards in the company’s 2020 fiscal year.
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