Starbucks workers from Buffalo NY voted to form the company’s first workers’ union. Three stores from the Buffalo area voted to unionize, which is a first among the coffee company’s 8,953 US stores.
Starbucks Workers From 3 Branches Hold Separate Elections
Holding separate elections, two of the three Buffalo Starbucks branches voted to unionize. One store had its baristas and supervisors vote 19-8, while the second one voted 12-8.
The third store failed to come to a decision. While the count showed 15 votes cast for unionization and 9 against, there were 7 votes that faced challenges.
Specifically, the union called the challenge as some of the workers who voted do not have regular employee status.
The vote to unionize marks a watershed moment not just for the coffee shop workers but for US restaurant workers. American restaurant workers are among the least unionized workers in the country.
Starbucks Says Its Workers Don’t Need Unions
Meanwhile, Starbucks continues to promote its reputation as a progressive employer. With its generous compensation and benefits programs, it insists that unions are unnecessary.
However, the company’s history shows it fought off attempts by workers to unionize as early as during the 1980s. During this period, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union represented some Starbucks staff.
Today, this union represents workers at some locations run by grocery stores. However, they do not have jurisdiction over Starbucks workers in company-owned stores.
Last year, workers voted to unionize a corporate-run Starbucks store in Canada. Recently three more stores in the Buffalo area and one in Arizona are organizing a union vote.
Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University, monitors the situation with interest. “I think a unionized Starbucks restaurant will demonstrate to workers … that it's not easy, but they can do it. We will likely see many, many more organizing drives,” she said.
Union Vote Entails No Immediate Changes
Meanwhile, Starbucks North America President Rossann Williams released a letter to staff last Thursday. She said that for now, the union results entail “no immediate changes” to the organization.
“The vote outcomes will not change our shared purpose or how we will show up for each other. We want to protect partner flexibility, transferability, and benefits across all stores in a market or a district because we know that's important to partners,” she wrote.
However, things are already stirring. The Buffalo union vote captured national attention. Many pro-labor activists such as Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gave their support for Starbucks workers.
In contrast, Starbucks management flew in corporate executives to Buffalo. This includes Williams and former CEO Howard Schulz.
Starbucks Workers Want Better Staffing, Training, and Pay
Why do Starbucks workers want to form a union? Pro-union workers say they are calling for better staffing, better training, and increased pay.
They want veteran workers to enjoy steady wage increases. Currently, workers who stayed with Starbucks for years discover that their pay isn’t that different from new hires.
Hours before the union vote for Buffalo stores, Starbucks announced it would raise its starting pay to $15 an hour.
It will also boost wages for staff employed longer than two and five years. In addition, it will make changes to its training and scheduling.
All Buffalo Stores Should Vote Not Just Three
Starbucks also argued that all 20 stores in the Buffalo area should vote in the union election instead of just three. However, federal labor officials repeatedly disagreed.
Each store should remain fairly autonomous. As a result, federal labor officials refused to delay the election or the counting of the votes.
Later, Buffalo workers accused Starbucks of breaking the law by interfering with their moves to organize. They said the company is “engaging in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance” and other illegal activity.
Expectedly, Starbucks denied the allegations. It insisted it complies with all labor-organizing laws and guidelines.
Watch the Reuters news video reporting that Starbucks clinch first union win at NY store:
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