Unions enable workers to protect themselves and lobby for better conditions. With this in mind, it is surprising that businesses actively oppose them.
Nonetheless, Starbucks Corp is currently facing an unwanted rise of a worker’s union. A store in Buffalo saw its workers vote 19 to eight in favor of a union at the store in the town of Elmwood marked the beginning of historic change in the coffee company.
In response, the company has insisted that individual stores could not unionize, but this has not been accepted in states such as Arizona, New York, and now Seattle. Starbuck’s original plan would have meant a union would need to secure a larger number of votes to succeed.
The National Labor Relations Board has ordered that employees in Seattle will be mailed ballots to decide their stance on a union on 25 February. This means Seattle will join shops in New York and Arizona in allowing store-by-store unionization.
Labor board officials found there wasn’t a reason to depart from the typical approach that assumes a single workplace’s employees have enough staff to hold a vote.
Now Starbucks, a company that has prided itself on its employee benefits, is facing the challenges of facing a union drive nationally.
The state of the union
The union is attempting to represent over 100 different stores in the US after they elected for a vote. Of course, this means that a union has plenty of work to do to secure votes in individual stores. Nonetheless, Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, won in two of the three Starbucks elections in Buffalo.
Furthermore, these wins drew the support of Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders, as well as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In response to the votes, Starbucks has attempted a number of negotiation strategies.
From Cassie's public FB post:
"This is not the company I signed on to in 2017 and this just further proves that we need a union in our stores. Starbucks is making a big mistake and I will be spending this newfound time supporting my partners through the union in any way I can." pic.twitter.com/IsPx7pKM0C
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) February 21, 2022
Fortune reported that after Starbucks’ North America president, Rossann Williams, told employees in a December letter that “we do not want a union between us as partners” and that they respected the rights of employees, the company leveraged law firm Littler Mendelson to stop the store-by-store votes.
Now that this has failed, Starbucks may change tact.
Reaching an agreement
Starbucks has already announced to increase wages and its referral rewards.
In a press statement, Kevin Johnson, Starbucks president and CEO, said: “This is how we continue to build a great and enduring company. One that is committed to the ideal that doing good for one another – and for society – is good for business over the long-term.”
However, this hasn’t appeased calls for a union.
Employees at the company wrote to the company in December stating: “We are organizing a union because we believe the best way to uphold our end of the partnership is by creating a voice for ourselves so that we can work alongside one another as true partners.”
While the company may be nervous about how workers will use their voice, after the pandemic a union could be positive. After all, the lack of consistency and pay in the hospitality industry led to hundreds of thousands leaving the sector during COVID-19.
A union could ease concerns, and let workers know that they are valued and have a voice in a company that knows that doing good for everyone benefits it in the long term.
UNLEASH reached out to Starbucks for comment, while the company did not go into specifics, a spokesperson said: “Right now, our focus is on listening to our partners, addressing their needs, and ensuring we are delivering the very best Starbucks Experience we can offer.
“We support our partners’ right to have their voices heard and we are committed to listening.”