21 Starbucks Stores Plan To Form Unions In 1-Day Blitz

Starbucks baristas from 21 stores around the country told the company Tuesday that they plan to organize, potentially adding hundreds of new members to a union campaign that’s battling the coffee chain for first contracts.

The union, Workers United, said it is the largest group of Starbucks stores to go public with their organizing plans in a single day since the effort began in Western New York in 2021. The 21 locations are scattered across 14 states from coast to coast.

Workers sent a joint letter to the company’s CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, demanding “higher wages, fair and consistent scheduling, improved benefits, and a safe and dignified workplace.”

“We have been met with higher and higher expectations without being given the resources to meet them,” they wrote.

Baristas at roughly 400 of Starbucks’ 9,000 corporate-owned stores have formed unions with Workers United as part of the campaign, one of the biggest U.S. labor organizing successes in years. Workers United has won more than 80% of the union elections that have been held, according to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees elections and investigates union-busting allegations.

“It’s important that we’re recognized as people rather than profit machines.”

– Barista Lizzie Harlow

But the pace at which stores are unionizing has slowed since 2022 in the face of an aggressive counter-campaign by the Seattle-based company.

Federal labor prosecutors have accused Starbucks of illegally firing union supporters, making unlawful threats and refusing to bargain with workers throughout the campaign. Labor board judges have ruled against Starbucks again and again, finding the company violated the law in 48 of 49 cases that have been heard so far, according to a tally provided by an NLRB spokesperson.

Barista Lizzie Harlow said in an interview that those findings didn’t discourage co-workers from signing on for the union as part of Tuesday’s push. The 31-year-old works in the town of Sulphur, Louisiana, two hours west of Baton Rouge, and said none of the Starbucks locations in their district have formed unions yet.

Harlow said a lot of workers at the store are worried about losing hours, which could jeopardize their qualification for benefits.

“It’s important that we’re recognized as people rather than profit machines,” she said. “We don’t have another choice but to stand together.”

Workers United said Starbucks workers at 21 stores around the country notified the company Tuesday that they plan to unionize.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Twenty-year-old Alex Taylor, whose store in Madison, Wisconsin, also plans to petition for a union, said he’s optimistic the union will start to make good headway on a collective bargaining agreement.

“Through this mass filing we hope, and I certainly do, that Starbucks treats us like we’re advertised to be, as well-supported and respected partners,” Taylor said.

Growing the campaign is critical to any success the union hopes to have at the bargaining table. Starbucks has insisted that each store must bargain its own contract, just as each store has unionized on its own, but the larger the campaign gets, the easier it will be for the union to bend the company toward a nationwide agreement.

The Starbucks effort is part of a wave of new organizing at big-name companies like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Apple and REI, all of which were previously union-free. Those campaigns have all notched big organizing wins but have struggled to secure contractual gains at the bargaining table.

“Starbucks has blunted the organizing effort by rolling out new raises and benefits for non-union stores while withholding them from those that have organized.”

The Starbucks workers are demanding minimum pay of $20 per hour, annual raises of 5% and a guarantee of at least 32 hours a week for full-time workers, among other proposals. A strong contract could turbocharge more Starbucks organizing and set a bar for similar food-service chains, though the two sides are still a long ways off from reaching a deal.

Starbucks has blunted the organizing effort by rolling out new raises and benefits for non-union stores while withholding them from those that have organized — a nationwide policy one labor board judge deemed illegal. Starbucks has denied it broke the law and appealed the decision.

As HuffPost recently reported, the company is even excluding union workers from its North America Barista Championship, the winner of which gets a trip to Starbucks’ coffee farm in Costa Rica.

Taylor said he’s noticed the disparate treatment: “It says in fine print, every single time, that if you are in a unionized store you may not be eligible for this.”

But Taylor, who’s working toward his college degree, said he’s focused on bigger workplace issues, like making sure baristas get enough hours to make ends meet.

“At end of the day [I look at] what the union is fighting for — guaranteed hours, secure scheduling, higher wages,” he said. “Having a barista championship is not nearly as impactful as being able to pay my rent and get groceries in a way that I’m not stressed out every month.”

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