Amid rising tide of labor actions, Starbucks workers set to vote on unionizing

Starbucks workers in New York vote for what could be the first union at the company’s corporate-owned stores. Workers in three more stores in upstate New York have filed petitions to hold union elections as well

November 14, 2021 by Monica Cruz
Starbucks Workers United members with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Buffalo Democratic Party leader India Walton. Photo: Starbucks Workers United

Workers at three Starbucks stores in New York might be the first in the US to vote to unionize at the coffee shop giant. The three stores in the Buffalo city area filed for union elections back in August and announced the formation of Starbucks Workers United or SWU. Since then, workers say the company has sent high-level management to the stores to monitor and intimidate them under the guise of helping them serve customers and clean up.

Last week, the workers filed a charge against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing it of “engaging in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance, solicitation of grievances and the closing of facilities.” The SWU also says that the company transferred in and hired more employees to dilute support for the union.

That weekend, the company closed all its stores in the Buffalo-area for a meeting with billionaire Howard Schultz, the former CEO of the company and its largest shareholder. At the meeting, Schultz invoked the stories of sharing among concentration camp inmates to make a point about Starbucks stretching its resources to care for workers. This comparison was criticized for its comparison of a multi-billion dollar company’s provision of benefits to the deeds of those who underwent severe torture. This comes after weeks of “captive audience” meetings, which are mandatory meetings where the management gives anti-union talks and presentations.

But the intimidation hasn’t scared more workers from making moves to vote on a union. On November 9, three more stores in upstate New York filed petitions with the NLRB to hold union elections. This comes after the company petitioned to have all the estimated 20 individual stores in the Buffalo area vote on unionizing in one single election, a set-up that usually tilts the results in favor of the company.

A Starbucks spokesperson told Vice, “We routinely create the space and forums for open and honest conversation as it relates to establishing and maintaining a great work environment.”

Public documents on the National Labor Relations Board show that Starbucks is being represented by the nation’s largest union-busting firm, Littler Mendelson.

Workers have seen an outpouring of solidarity from elected officials and customers alike. Customers have been showing their support by making orders with their names endorsed with “union yes.”

Starbucks owns 9,000 stores across the US. The company reported a record $8.1 billion profit in the quarter ending October 3.

Monica Cruz is a reporter with the US-based media organization BreakThrough News