Home Coffee prices Starbucks workers in Buffalo must decide to form a union

Starbucks workers in Buffalo must decide to form a union


People walk past a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York on December 7, 2021.

Lindsay DeDario | Reuters

Starbucks workers at three coffee shops in Buffalo, New York, voted this week on whether to form a union, a choice that could have far-reaching implications for the coffee giant and the restaurant industry in the sense large.

Postal voting ends Wednesday and the National Labor Relations Board will begin counting votes on Thursday afternoon. About 100 employees who work at company-owned sites are eligible to participate in the election, based on the voting list compiled by Starbucks.

Unions are rare in the restaurant business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1.2% of workers in catering establishments were members of unions in 2020, below the private sector unionization rate of 6.3%. But if Starbucks workers in Buffalo vote for a union this week, the move could have an impact that extends beyond the coffee chain.

“I have a feeling that once people realize that they can take action on their behalf to improve their workplace with their co-workers, they will,” said Cathy Creighton, union lawyer and manager. Industrial and Professional Relations at Cornell University. branch in Buffalo.

Union campaigns by Amazon workers and strikes by John Deere and Kellogg employees have grabbed the headlines this year, drawing more attention to organized labor. A tight labor market has also given workers confidence that they have the power to push employers for higher wages and better benefits.

In Buffalo, unionized workers shared a number of issues that they believe can be solved by a union, such as understaffing, training and pay.

The union effort met with strong opposition from Starbucks management. The company sent senior executives and former CEO Howard Schultz to the Buffalo sites, a move Starbucks Workers United called a “union break.” Starbucks appealed to the NLRB in Washington to expand the union vote to the entire Buffalo market, which includes 20 coffee shops, but the request was denied on Tuesday.

In November, workers filed a federal labor complaint, accusing Starbucks of illegal activities such as participating in a campaign of threats, intimidation and surveillance in response to union pressure. The company has denied the allegations.

Starbucks Workers United also claims that the voting list created by Starbucks includes ineligible employees who work at other locations in Buffalo but were briefly assigned to voting cafes. The group will likely voice their objections to the NLRB during the vote count.

Starbucks has already succeeded in crushing union campaigns in New York and Philadelphia. If organizers are successful in Buffalo, it would be the first union representing baristas at its US-owned sites. The company’s only unionized location in Canada signed a contract with Starbucks this summer.

“We’re respecting the process, and we’re going to get through this by staying true to our mission values ​​and simply operating as one Starbucks,” CEO Kevin Johnson said on CNBC’s “Mad Money with Jim Cramer” Tuesday night. “That’s three stores out of 9,000 stores, and we’re going to find out.”

Jaz Brisack, a Starbucks barista at her Elmwood Avenue cafe in Buffalo and a member of the Starbucks Workers United organizing committee, said she woke up every day to messages from fellow Starbucks in other states asking for advice on how to start a union campaign themselves. . Baristas in Mesa, Arizona recently applied for a union election.

A longtime Starbucks employee who works at a Buffalo site not included in the vote said she opposes unionization but believes Starbucks Workers United will be successful. She requested anonymity due to fear of backlash from her colleagues.

Other Buffalo residents have been more supportive of the union’s efforts. Brisack said customers have shown their support for the union by placing mobile orders with “union solidarity” instead of their names.

Outside of Buffalo, the union campaign generated high-level support from Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“I think having all of this support means that we can hopefully get Starbucks to the negotiating table and get them not to delay this process because we think the whole world is watching, knowing that their customers support us, ”Brisack said.

If workers vote for a union, the next hurdle is negotiating a contract with Starbucks. Labor law does not require the employer and the union to enter into a collective agreement. On top of that, workers who lose confidence in the union can request revocation of their certification after one year, thus setting the time for negotiations in motion.

Atlantic Equities analyst Edward Lewis wrote in a note to clients on Sunday that he is monitoring closely to see if the effort is successful and spread to other markets. He lowered the stock to neutral, citing fears that momentum could slow given declining same-store sales in China and rising labor cost inflation in the United States.

Starbucks shares have risen 8% this year, giving it a market value of $ 137 billion. The title is on the verge of having its worst year since 2017.