Phoenix, AZ

Latest Starbucks unionization attempt fails in Phoenix

Jeremy Beren

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By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Phoenix) — Starbucks employees at the 7th Avenue and Roosevelt store in Phoenix voted overwhelmingly against unionizing on Wednesday amid a nationwide effort from employees of the coffee chain to unionize.

So far, more than 200 Starbucks stores in 33 states have joined Starbucks Workers United. The 7th Avenue and Roosevelt store would have been Arizona’s sixth Starbucks to join Workers United, following in the footsteps of the Euclid & University location in Tucson, which unionized last month.

Shift supervisor Gabriel Estes, who also attends Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, told NewsBreak of his surprise and disappointment after the final vote tally.

"We can't expect everything to go our way the first time," Estes said inside the Teamsters Local 104 hall in south Phoenix. "We have to continue to push through, and it's going to be a battle. This is a really big corporation known for being anti-union, so we must push harder."

The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Starbucks in May after they say the coffee chain fired two Phoenix employees as retaliation for trying to unionize. Howard Schultz, the company’s CEO emeritus, said as recently as June that Starbucks would not accept the union.

Starbucks has not responded to a request for comment.

Alleged confrontations with management

Estes and barista trainer Ali Margolies, a fellow Arizona State student, allege management at their store pushed back strongly against organizing activity. The pair described how baristas and shift leads became "closed-off" as they say managers sought to divide opinion on the union effort.

After 7th Avenue and Roosevelt workers announced their petition to hold an NLRB-sanctioned union vote, Estes said the mood inside the store became "shaky" and "awkward." He said intense one-on-one meetings were commonplace as the vote count drew closer.

Margolies explained that each partner was pulled into one of these meetings, which could become emotional. Both Margolies and Estes told NewsBreak that managers began to cry during some of these talks.

The NLRB views tactics such as mandatory one-on-one meetings as coercive in nature.

Starbucks denies holding any mandatory one-on-one or "captive audience" meetings at its stores, saying all meetings are voluntary and simply intended to inform employees of their options.

“I think there was a lot of fear (at our store). It's sad that people have to be afraid when they are pro-union,” Margolies said. "We don't want to be retaliated against (or) treated unfairly or even fired, which has unfortunately happened to some baristas who have been organizers."

An expanding network

Margolies said she reached out to Workers United, and in doing so, she tapped into a wide-ranging network of Starbucks employees, which the company calls "partners," who are seeking better working conditions — including those in Pima and Pinal Counties.

"I've seen everybody show up for each other, whether they're in Tucson or Phoenix or Scottsdale," she said.

The 7th Avenue and Roosevelt Starbucks was the seventh in Arizona to hold a union election. As of Thursday, Aug. 4, no stores in Pinal have filed for election, but the county is home to multiple Starbucks locations in Coolidge, Casa Grande, Queen Creek, and San Tan Valley.

The road ahead

"Even though we're workers, we're also people, too. I don't think it's right to make us abide by tactics that make us fear corporate," Estes said when asked if he had a message for Schultz. "Starbucks should be an open space where we're all freely able to express ourselves."

Margolies' message for the billionaire former presidential candidate was to ask for respect and dignity — and she plans to continue organizing, whether at her current store or at another Starbucks.

"Partners are the backbone of his company. We're the ones filling his pockets ... We are the ones on the floor doing the work, doing the cleaning, connecting with customers, building those relationships (and) lining his pockets," Margolies said.

"It doesn't stop here. We'll keep fighting to be on the right side of history."

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

Phoenix, AZ
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