Corporate-owned Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks may get unionized, at least, in Buffalo, New York, where baristas are attempting to form a union. Starbucks is pushing back.
Three Buffalo Starbucks locations are voting on unionization but Starbucks has been pressuring employees to vote no on via mail-in ballots, and results are expected to be announced on Dec. 9. Three more Buffalo locations and one in Arizona also filed petitions to hold a union vote. They’re seeking to join Workers United, an arm of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, The Washington Post reported.
Starbucks employees in Buffalo have been complaining about working conditions since early 2020, saying the pandemic not only put them at risk for exposure to the coronavirus but also left them understaffed. They wanted Starbucks to increase pay for its longest-serving baristas but they said their complaints went unheard.
The union movement pushed Starbucks founder Howard Schultz into action. He traveled to Buffalo in October to speak to the company’s employees about growing up poor in Brooklyn. The company’s values are about humanity, community, and love, he said. But when a 20-year-old college student and shift supervisor named Gianna Reeve asked Schultz to address a set of voluntary principles for fair-labor organizing at the company, Schultz, 68, left the meeting, The Washington Post reported.
Reeve, one of the leaders of Starbucks Workers United, said the company had failed to live up to its progressive brand image, especially in its opposition to unionizing.
Union-busting tactics by Starbucks have been intense, she said. “It cannot be understated just how unethical the onslaught of managers and corporate presence has been in Buffalo during this union campaign,” Reeve told NY Magazine.
The company is worried about a trickle-down effect. Once the sites in Buffalo get unionized, it could cause a wave of organizing across its 8,000 U.S. locations. If the Starbucks employees in Buffalo are successful in their union bid, it will be the first-ever union at a corporate-owned Starbucks in the U.S.
The fight over forming a union at Starbucks also “illustrates the deep resistance to unions among employers, including companies that espouse liberal causes,” NY Magazine reported.
Some on Twitter agreed. “The very woke coffeehouse is also very anti left values… Color me surprised,” Patrick Kelly @pkell7 tweeted.
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The pandemic is credited with making workers more aware of their rights. There has been a rise in unions and approval of labor unions is at its highest point in more than 50 years, according to an August Gallup survey. The poll found that 68 percent of Americans and 77 percent of adults age 34 and younger approved of unions.
“The pandemic really shook up what workers want and what they expect from a job,” said Lane Windham, a labor historian at Georgetown University. “We’re living in a moment of a new heightened awareness of workers’ rights.”