“There would be no Starbucks without us,” said Casey Moore, who wants to unionize with dozens of other employees at the American coffee chain.
Management, on the other hand, is resisting.
The battle began in late August, when 49 employees from three Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, near Niagara Falls, officially petitioned to unionize under the banner of “Starbucks Workers United.”
The coffee company’s leaders reacted quickly, dispatching a battalion of executives to the city, including the iconic former CEO Howard Schultz.
This conflict echoes the failed attempt to organize workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama last April. Richard Bensinger, a seasoned trade union activist who is assisting Workers United, said he has never seen such a full-fledged offensive to pressure employees.
“Why are they so terrified of allowing the baristas here to form a union? They are beneath it “He described the company as “progressive,” citing the numerous meetings organized by management to encourage workers to vote against unionization.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in an early November message on the company website that he was “saddened and concerned” to hear that some employees felt the need to organize.
“No partner has ever needed a representative to seek things we all have as Starbucks partners,” he said. Days earlier, without mentioning the events in Buffalo, the company announced a nationwide minimum wage increase, bringing it to at least $15 an hour by the summer of 2022, as well as a seniority bonus for the first time in its 50-year history.
Starbucks filed two unsuccessful petitions with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to postpone or change the planned vote on unionization.
The requests were denied, and ballots were distributed on November 10th. Employees have until December 8 to respond, after which the count will take place the next day. According to Cedric de Leon, a labor movement researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Starbucks employees’ initiative is part of a larger trend of renewed worker mobilization across the United States.
It began with teacher strikes in 2018 and was most recently seen in the walkout of 10,000 John Deere tractor employees, which was resolved this week.
If a single cafe manages to unionize, “it could create a wave within the company,” he says, especially since employees know they are negotiating from a position of strength because businesses across the country are struggling to fill open positions. According to Bensinger, young potential employees will ask, “Why should you work for one of the wealthiest restaurant companies on the planet, but live paycheck to paycheck?”
Employees from three more Buffalo Starbucks have joined the effort, which supporters insist is not anti-Starbucks.
Moore, 25, said she enjoys working for the company because it provides health insurance and a flexible schedule that allows her to plan for a return to school.
“I’m also getting paid barely above the minimum wage,” of $15 an hour in New York, she said, despite the fact that they have been labeled “essential workers.”
The company’s reluctance surprised her. “It’s insane, honestly, to see how many people they’ve sent into our stores, probably over 100 corporate representatives and managers from across the country,” she said.
The union has also received widespread support, including from House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Democratic Party’s left wing and New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Bensinger refused to predict the outcome of the vote, but he did say he was “confident.”
However, Ruth Milkman, a labor sociologist at The City University of New York, warned that “in the absence of any change in labor law here, employers hold all the cards.” Walmart employees have tried for years to unionize, with no success, she said, and the unionization rate in the private sector is only 6.3 percent.
US President Joe Biden supports legislation to reduce obstacles to unionization, but it is stalled in the Senate.