In the 60 elections that have been run so far, the union has won 90 percent of the time and the average unit size of the unionized stores is 28 workers. If these same numbers hold for the 193 open cases where an election has not yet been administered, then the Starbucks union will soon win an additional 174 elections and thereby add an additional 4,870 workers to their rolls. Combining the numbers from the elections that have been run and these projections for the elections that will be run soon reveals that, based on current filings alone, the Starbucks union is likely to have 6,384 workers at 228 locations in the next few months. If the union continues filing for 2 elections per day, those numbers will of course continue to grow.
Starbucks workers at a location in Eugene, Oregon went on strike on Tuesday to protest the union busting at their location and the unlawful firing of three organizers. The workers at this Starbucks store voted 17-0 in favor of unionizing. They are part of the massive Starbucks unionization wave, with 70 other stores nationwide winning union elections and over 250 stores filing to unionize. Starbucks, however, is doing everything it can to stop this wave. As Starbucks Workers United described in a statement: “Starbucks has continued to cut workers’ hours, coerce them into voting against union representation by mischaracterizing the law and preemptively refusing to engage in good faith bargaining… Starbucks has failed to recognize their union despite having no good-faith reason not to.”
On February 23, the DSA International Committee, Starbucks Workers United, and the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee hosted Revolutionary Grounds to hear insights from Starbucks workers organizing from Buffalo, New York, to Valparaíso, Chile. Jana Silverman, a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Center for Global Workers Rights, talked with Andrés Giordano, incoming leftist Chilean congressman and a founding leader of Sindicato Starbucks Chile; Jaz Brisack, member of the Elmwood Starbucks Bargaining Committee; RJ Red, member of the Genesee St. Starbucks Bargaining Committee; and Joe Carolan, an organizer in New Zealand. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Buffalo, New York - On Thursday, workers at a downtown Starbucks in Buffalo, New York went on strike after the company announced it was planning to withhold proposed wage increases and benefits from employees at newly unionized stores. The one-day strike, which shut down the entire store, was a direct response to the announcement by CEO Howard Schultz that proposed raises and benefit increases at corporate-owned Starbucks cafes would not apply to locations that had already unionized or which are planning to unionize. Schultz, who founded the company and now has a net worth of almost $4 billion, claimed that his hands were tied and that Starbucks is legally unable to make changes to wages and benefits at stores that have organized or which are currently involved in collective bargaining. But this is a lie.
Sanchez and McGlawn are two of the seven workers, known as the “Memphis Seven,” who were fired by Starbucks in February, just weeks after they announced their plans to form a union there. In a blatantly illegal move, the company terminated the workers (about a third of the entire staff) for supposedly violating company policy after they met with reporters in the store to talk about unionization efforts. But almost all of the workers who were fired were involved in organizing for the union, and it is clear that the terminations were a direct act of retaliation designed to crush these workers’ efforts to form a union and put an end to the unionization wave spreading throughout the company. The National Labor Relations Board has called the firings illegal, and has already filed complaints against the company.
The last time I wrote in Labor Notes, I described the captive-audience “listening sessions” that Starbucks corporate had attempted to use against me and my co-workers who are trying to unionize our Hopewell Starbucks in central New Jersey. (See (“How We Turned the Tables on Starbucks Union-Busters,” March 2022.) After corporate failed spectacularly in our first one, they decided to cancel the second, saying they had “no new information to share with us.” We haven’t had any since—even though many of us have requested another, as we have plenty of information to share with them. Instead, Starbucks corporate decided to skip to the next tactic in its playbook: “one-on-one” meetings between one barista and a manager—or multiple managers.
When news broke on Friday, April 1, 2022 that Amazon workers in Staten Island, N.Y. had managed to organize the first union in the notoriously anti-union company’s 27-year history, a common refrain across social media went something like this: This is not an April Fool’s Day joke. The news was so noteworthy that the name of Christian Smalls, a 33-year-old Black former Amazon employee and the interim president of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) who led the walk-out, even trended on Twitter. Did Smalls and the other employees want better pay and benefits? Absolutely. But what many people may not realize is that the drive to unionize at Amazon and elsewhere is being driven by employee concerns about health and safety at work.
It seems that union organizing has become both necessary and cool. Can this surge be sustained—and what will it take? Desperately exhausted, overworked, and underpaid workers—like Starbucks baristas, nurses, Amazon warehouse workers, and graduate students—are lining up for the fight of their lives (and for their lives). A certain collective excitement has lent an allure to standing up together, in a way that was last true 70 years ago. Pulsing through workers nationally is a pull towards something new, edgy, and possibly powerful—built on the compelling truth that a risk becomes less risky when you are part of a group. Seeing hundreds of people take action—people who are “just like you”—takes it from the barely imaginable to the manageable.
Kansas City, Missouri - Workers at the Overland Park Starbucks location at 10201 W 75th Street walked out on strike Saturday morning. According to a release, the walk out strike was planned for Saturday at 8 a.m. to protest unfair labor practices. Workers at the Starbucks location say that management has threatened and retaliated against employees for organizing a union at the location, according to the release. “The response to our union campaign from our district manager, Sara Jenkins has been aggressive. She has cornered us one on one, sometimes with another manager to intimidate us. Forced us to decide between being demoted, resigning or changing availability that conflicts with college classes and second jobs...We want the one-on-ones to stop," Starbucks employee Hannah Edwards said in a statement.
More union organizing is brewing at Starbucks. In December 2021, staff at a Starbucks in Buffalo, NY became the first US branch to successfully vote to form a union. Since then, 103 Starbucks branches have decided to join them by filing petitions with the National Labor Relations Board. There are roughly 9,000 Starbucks locations in the US, and the workers in Buffalo overcame an intimidation campaign by the corporation which spent a lot of resources to squash the union drive. The company was right to worry, however, as the Buffalo example has encouraged other workers of the global coffee chain to form unions in 26 states across the country. The fast-spreading unionization drive is being organized by Starbucks Workers United, an affiliation of Services Employees International Union (SEIU).
As more baristas around the country seek to unionize, Starbucks has used a massive legal team to slow the pace of union elections. But the coffee chain suffered a tough legal setback on Friday, all thanks to some late emails. Workers at several stores in upstate New York recently petitioned for union elections, just like the two stores in the Buffalo area that successfully unionized last year. But Starbucks, through its lawyers from the firm Littler Mendelson, has asked the National Labor Relations Board not to move ahead with the votes, arguing that elections for individual stores aren’t appropriate. The company wants all the stores within the region grouped into one big vote. With dozens of stores around the country looking to join the union Workers United, that argument has slowed down the legal process and bought Starbucks more time to run its campaign against the union.
Let me set the stage for you: A single cheese pizza cut into sixteenths, a small group of chairs awkwardly arranged to a circle, and corporate level managers trying to chat baristas up like we were best friends. Our store had closed at noon that Tuesday, so that the company could hold four consecutive “store meetings,” each with a group of around six employees. A few weeks before, five workers had to go into isolation due to Covid and the store had barely modified operating hours—but for these meetings we could shut down for almost the entire day. These were Starbucks’ “listening sessions,” or corporate union-busting meetings workers hoping to unionize their store are forced to participate in. But we at the Hopewell store were prepared.
Starbucks fired seven union supporters at a store in Memphis, Tennessee, on Tuesday in what the union has portrayed as a retaliatory purge of the organizing committee. The terminations mark the most significant escalation in the battle between the world’s largest coffee chain and the fast-growing Starbucks Workers United campaign. The firings made national news, but the reality is that employers fire union activists all the time – whether it’s justified or not. Labor law in the United States gives companies little to lose by ousting organizers. But due to the high profile of the Starbucks campaign, as well as recent changes at the National Labor Relations Board, this case may be different. Starbucks insists the firings were not retaliatory.
Starbucks workers are leading an electrifying drive to organize the major coffee chain, with one or often several stores announcing they’re joining this growing movement each day. Amazon workers from coast to coast are organizing to build power at one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations. Workers in Staten Island recently filed to hold union elections at 2 warehouses. The majority Black Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama are engaged in their second union campaign, after the results of the first were tossed out based on Amazon’s egregious union busting campaign – which they continue in earnest in Bessemer, Staten Island, and elsewhere.
Starbucks workers at two Philadelphia stores took a key step in forming a union last Friday, accelerating a budding labor movement at the coffee giant that has seen employees at dozens of the chain’s locations nationwide try to organize. Baristas at the 1945 Callowhill St. and 600 South Ninth St. stores filed petitions to hold elections on union representation with the National Labor Relations Board, a first step in the process. The unionizing effort took root in December when two Starbucks stores in Buffalo, N.Y., voted to join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. So far, workers at more than 50 stores across the country have launched the process to join the union, according to spokesperson Dawn Ang.