Last week, Starbucks workers of a Buffalo, New York franchise location voted in favor of unionization in a vote with 19 for and 8 against. It is the first-ever Starbucks union and is projected to influence a wave of other union votes across the franchise.
On December 13, a group of Boston-area Starbucks workers filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board in pursuit of a union vote. Service Employees International Union affiliate Workers United has also filed for votes on behalf of four other Starbucks locations in New York and Arizona.
Buffalo employee Alexis Rizzo said in a press conference, “This is a monumental victory for us. This is something that is a dream come true and the courage of all the partners standing here next to me.” After some delay due to challenged votes, workers from a separate Cheektowaga, New York store also voted in favor of unionization 15-9.
Starbucks has long resisted efforts of unionization, but with the compounding stressors of COVID-19 and increasing consumer demand and staffing shortages, workers are more willing to organize.
As public opinion sways in favor of the unionized stores, Starbucks has acknowledged the potential risks to its public reputation if it continues to dissuade unionizing efforts. However, the relationship between the newly-unionized has been described as ‘contentious’, with workers accusing the company of intentional intimidation by forcing employees to attend meetings with top executives, or dragging on negotiations.
Johnnie Kallas of Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School spoke on a panel ahead of the vote tally, saying, “Sometimes strikes and union organizing victories can be very contagious…[This vote] could inspire a lot of workers across the country in a low-unionized sector to fight for union rights.”
Though unions have been declining for decades, there was a slight increase in 2020, potentially prompted by the pandemic. Currently, the percentage of the American public who approve of unions is at the highest level since 1965, reflecting a broader trend of interest in accountability for employers.