Starbucks Workers Fight for Unionization

In an ongoing battle between the Starbucks Workers United and Starbucks Corp, the employees lobbying for unionization filed a labor board complaint. The complaint accuses Starbucks Corporation of violating federal law in efforts to defeat unionization attempts by “engaging in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance, solicitation of grievances, and the closing of facilities, among other conduct.”

This follows a recent victory for workers in Buffalo, New York, wherein organizers achieved a win from the National Labor Relations Board in response to a bid levied by Starbucks Corp to prevent store-by-store unionization votes in Buffalo. There will be votes for unionization held at three Starbucks locations. Workers at these locations will vote by mail with a deadline of December 8, 2021, with the vote count taking place the following day. Additional demands involve higher wages and ongoing union representation in working procedures, benefits, and contract negotiations.

In response to the Buffalo vote, the company emailed employees of the Buffalo stores, asking them directly to vote no. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson told CNBC: “We’re going to continue to do what we’ve always done, which is serve our partners. We know that success is best when shared, and you know, certainly we’re going to stay focused on creating a great experience for them…We don’t think it is in partners’ best interest to put a third party in between that relationship that we’ve always shared that is grounded in our mission.” 

Similar to other restaurant workers in recent months, Starbucks baristas have cited issues with inconsistent scheduling, understaffing, and barriers to taking sick days. In a competitive labor market with limited workers, workers are in a stronger position to lobby for change in the industry. While 10.8% of US employees are unionized, only 1.2% of food and beverage industry workers belong to a union. These numbers may change as the hospitality world continues to shift. 

Starbucks workers are one of a wave of high-profile labor campaigns involving food supply chain workers, gaining historical significance during a month that has been dubbed “Striketober.”  From large-scale efforts like Frito-Lay, Nabisco, and Kellogg’s workers’ multi-week strikes to one-day walkouts by Burger King and McDonald’s workers, it’s clear that the pandemic has ushered in a new age for labor-employer relations.

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