Starbucks employees vote to unionize

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Starbucks employees at one Buffalo, New York location successfully voted to unionize, marking the first union in the company’s 50-year history, as U.S. labor markets continue to lag far behind projections at this point in the nation’s economic recovery.

Workers at the chain’s Elmwood Village location will join Workers United, a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, after they voted 19 to 8 in favor of the decision now pending certification by the National Labor Relations Board.

“We’ve done it, despite everything the company has thrown at us,” Michelle Eisen, a Starbucks barista who works at the Elmwood Village Starbucks café, told the Wall Street Journal.

Two other Starbucks locations in Buffalo also held votes on unionization.

The Camp Road store rejected the chance to unionize with a 12 to 8 vote. The vote at the third store, located on Genesee Street, was inconclusive after several ballots were changed. The National Labor Relations Board plans to review the challenges that were raised in the Genesee location vote.

The three Buffalo Starbucks stores received approval to hold unionization votes at their respective locations from the NLRB in October.

Starbucks’ corporate arm filed an appeal of the NLRB’s ruling, hoping to delay individual votes in favor of having all 20 Buffalo Starbucks locations vote at one time. That appeal, however, was ultimately rejected by the NLRB which said store-by-store votes were appropriate under labor law.

About 111 Starbucks workers were eligible to vote by mail beginning in November. Final tallies on Thursday counted 78 ballots, including those that were challenged.

Now, the NLRB must certify all of the votes, a process that reportedly takes about a week. If successful, Elmwood Village stands to be the first of 8,000 Starbucks-owned locations in the U.S. to unionize.

Starbucks and Workers United have five business days to submit objections to the result. Objections could delay the certification of the vote, however, if none are filed, the results could be certified by December 16, 2021.

Buffalo Starbucks employees said they want more input on pay and store operations, Fox Business reported.

“We need to be able to give an input on what it’s like to be in these stores every single day, what this working environment is like, what the conditions are like and then have that voice lead to changes that are better for our working conditions, not changes that are better necessarily for the shareholders or the profits of the company,” Alexis Rizzo, a shift supervisor at the Genesee Street location, told reporters.

“We really hope that the other stores in the area see this as a really positive example and are inspired by it,” she added.

There are 4,000 unionized Starbucks in the U.S., but they are licensed by Starbucks and owned by separate companies.

Giana Reeve, a shift supervisor at the Camp Road location that rejected unionization efforts, told Fox Business that Elmwood’s victory was “monumental.”

“We hope that [Starbucks] will come to the bargaining table with us and in good faith negotiate so we can make a better life for our partners, a better life for our communities and a better workplace all around,” Reeve stated.

Natalie Wittmeyer, a barista at Starbucks’ Elmwood location, explained that the Camp Road results stemmed from “union busting tactics” and “blatant misinformation” spread by the company. The corporate offices sent several executives including former CEO and current top shareholder, Howard Schultz to Buffalo to squash unionization efforts.

The barista said that employees do not plan to allow the vote to divide them.

“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. This is why we strongly believe that every partner in a district or market should have the opportunity to vote on such an important decision,” Rossann Williams, executive vice president and president of Starbucks North America, wrote to employees in a letter adding Starbucks would, “continue leading on wages and benefits, improve our listening and active partnership and keep building a company that matters.”

Starbucks reportedly plans to implement a $15 minimum wage for all workers going up to $23 by summer 2022. The company also plans to reward workers by offering five percent raises for employees with two or more years of service and ten percent for those with five years or more.

Calls for unionization of Starbucks-owned cafés are growing with several other locations nationwide filing for their own elections with the NLRB.

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