Starbucks workers in upstate New York are casting ballots on whether to join a union, a move that would be a first for the coffee chain’s more than 8,000 company-owned stores in the U.S.
More than 80 baristas and shift supervisors from three Buffalo-area stores have been voting by mail on whether to be represented by Workers United, an arm of the Service Employees International Union. The election ends Wednesday , and the outcome is expected to be announced Thursday afternoon.
The National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Starbucks to stop the counting of ballots. The company had argued that the election should include all 20 of the region’s stores, which effectively would have required the union to sway a much larger pool of workers.
Labor board members wrote in their unanimous ruling that Starbucks had not met the burden of proof needed to override the NLRB’s premise that a proposed bargaining unit consisting of one workplace is legitimate. Just because a bigger group of workers in the region might share a “community of interest” is not sufficient to disprove the agency’s presumption, they wrote.
“It’s unfortunate to see them still trying to stop ballots from being counted at the 11th hour, but it shows the world what we’ve been up against with this company,” Jaz Brisack, a Starbucks employee in Buffalo, said in a statement released by the union. “We haven’t done anything wrong, we just want a voice in our workplace and despite the money Starbucks has spent on lawyers trying to stop that, the NLRB is telling us we have a right to this vote.”
The union activity at Starbucks comes amid increased leverage for workers amid nationwide labor shortages and as a record number of Americans quit their jobs . Organized labor is also drawing more public support. A survey by Gallup in August found approval of unions at a more than 50-year high, with 68% of Americans saying they favored unions.
Pro-union Starbucks workers say they are fighting for higher wages, improved staffing and training, as well as steady pay hikes for those who stay with the company for years.
Reached for comment, a Starbucks spokesperson cited a letter to company employees on Tuesday from CEO Kevin Johnson, in which he stated that all Starbucks workers in Buffalo should have a say on the issue.
“We respect the process that is underway and, independent of any outcome in these elections, we will continue to stay true to our mission and values,” Johnson wrote.
Since the efforts to organize began, baristas at three additional Starbucks stores have also requested permission from the NLRB to vote on a union. A similar effort is under way among workers at a Starbucks in Arizona.
Beyond its appeal with the NLRB , Starbucks dispatched executives to Buffalo — including legendary former CEO Howard Schultz — to make the company’s case that a union would make it harder for workers to pick up shifts at multiple stores. Starbucks has a “network of company-operated stores that work together to create a better partner experience,” Johnson stated in his letter.
Days ahead of federal officials setting the union vote, Starbucks said it would hike starting pay to $15 an hour as well as raise wages 5% for staff employed more than two years and 10% for those with the company more than five years.
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