Buffalo, NY

A union vote at Starbucks could be a rare victory for organizing franchise workers

Luay Rahil

Photo Credit: Canva

Long hours, insufficient sick days, and miserable working conditions led three Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York, to file a petition seeking representation by a union.

Starbucks executives don’t appreciate this effort by Buffalo store’s employees, and they are trying to say that these issues are isolated issues and don’t reflect the conditions at every Starbucks store.

But according to New York Times, these poor working conditions existed for a very long time. In 2014, Jodi Kantor, an investigative reporter for New York Times, stated, "The company promised to end irregular schedules for its 130,000 baristas." Unfortunately, these conditions haven't improved, and employees are ready to form a union to better negotiate with Starbucks management.

If Buffalo store’s employees unionize, it could encourage others to do the same. Michelle Cheng says, “The vote at three Starbucks locations in the Buffalo area will be held via a mail-in election with ballots due Dec. 8, with the vote count the following day.” Everyone is waiting for the results, and Starbucks leaders are investing all of their resources to affect the results, including using their charismatic former CEO, Howard Schultz.

The company dispatched executives to flood their stores to address every problem at store levels. Workers United described Starbuck's effort as an anti-union task force.

Starbucks employees want to be represented by Workers United who states that they are a "progressive and dynamic labor organization, and they are relentless in their pursuit of social and economic justice for all workers."

On November 4th, Starbucks barista Michelle Eisen, representing Starbucks associates across Buffalo, filed an unfair labor practice charge against Starbucks corporate at the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that Starbucks is interfering with the staff's ability to organize a union.

I am actually shocked that the company we believe in has drifted so far from its core mission and values that they seem willing to do absolutely anything to stop us from forming our union. But we are voting on our union soon, and they will soon learn how unstoppable we truly are.

Starbucks effort to stop the process

According to WIBV, "Starbucks petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to require the workers to organize with the entire market of roughly 450 employees, rather than by store." NLRB ruled against Starbucks, stating that "Starbucks has failed to carry its burden that the unit must consist, at a minimum, of the 20 stores in the Buffalo market."

After the ruling, Starbucks stated that "Our storied success has come from our working directly together as partners, without a third party between us. We remain focused on supporting our partners as well as maintaining open, transparent, and direct conversations throughout the process."

A message from Howard Schultz: From Buffalo with love

On November 6, 2021, Howard Schultz flew to Buffalo to talk directly to employees, reminding them that Starbucks was the first company in the country that offered access to health insurance to every single employee, including part-time people. He said, "We did it because we believed it is the right thing to do."

He added, a year before the IPO, the company did the second thing that no other company in history has done before. Starbucks created equity in stock options or Bean Stock for every employee, so the company's success is shared with its employees.

He reminded employees that the company created the Caring Unites Partners (CUP) Fund, a financial assistance program funded by partners for partners. He also told employees that his company was the first to create The Starbucks College Achievement Plan to offer eligible U.S. partners (employees) opportunities to earn their bachelor’s degrees with full tuition reimbursement.

Howard Schultz is trying to convince people not to unionize, reminding them of all the great things the companies have done to make their partners' lives better. You can see his speech here.

Arizona Stores are Joining Buffalo

Howard Schultz's speech was amazing, but it did not stop Starbucks workers at a store in Mesa, Arizona, from declaring their intention to form a union, joining several Buffalo stores that have increased to six, which Starbucks Workers United confirmed.

Despite Starbucks’ vehement anti-union campaign, three more stores, Sheridan & Bailey, Walden & Anderson, and Depew, filed for union elections with the NLRB today! We are well on our way to winning the first unionized Starbucks store in the US.

Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on November 30th that he is standing by Starbucks employees "in their fight for decent wages and decent working conditions. Starbucks is raking in record profits in 2021. They are not a struggling company. So why are they working so hard to defeat workers' efforts to form a union?"

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