Starbucks Labor Union Organizing Spreading Across the Country
December 14, 2021
The unprecedented, high-profile Starbucks labor union movement that led to one Buffalo, New York store voting for unionization is now expanding to Arizona. This Arizona store is one of seven stores—out of 8,953—now pushing for union organization.
The sole store to successfully unionize so far is the Buffalo store. Two other stores in Buffalo voted against unionization, but some votes are being contested.
Starbucks employees, referred to as “partners,” in Mesa, Arizona have added their voices to their peers in New York, expressing their desire to join a union despite the company’s agreement to work with them directly on outstanding issues. Union organizers believe unionization is the only way to achieve fair wages and working conditions.
This comes after a record-breaking year of workers quitting, leaving many retail and restaurant establishments with “HELP WANTED” signs in their windows and the remaining workers stretched thin. Starbucks is just one of many food service companies with employees who want to unionize, but as the most-high profile case, all eyes are on Starbucks as it navigates uncharted territory and sets precedence. The restaurant and food service industry is historically the least represented among labor unions.
Starbucks announced it will raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour in response to the push to unionize, but pro-union workers say it is not only about money. They also want better staffing, training, and increasing income for those who stay with the company long-term.
On November 18, 2021, the six employees who are leading the movement in Arizona sent a letter to Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson outlining the reasons for organizing a union. They echo the letter sent by Buffalo employees, stating that there is “no true partnership without power-sharing and accountability,” and that “the best way to contribute meaningfully to [their] partnership with the company” is to organize a union that ensures their voices are heard and respected.
They go on to say that they are forming a union to “bring out the best” in both the company and its employees. They express their personal investment in the company and their ultimate desire for the company to succeed in fulfilling its mission to “[improve] communities one coffee at a time.” And they ask Johnson to sign the “Fair Election Principles,” a document which he refused to sign for Buffalo union organizers.
The letter concludes with a call for the company to stand for “greater justice, greater equality, and a greater vision of what life can be for Starbucks workers” and “prove itself a true partner.”
The letter was tweeted under the handle @SBWorkersUnited, a Twitter account started by Buffalo-area Starbucks partners and union organizers. They have amassed over 15,000 followers since joining Twitter in August 2021.
In October 2021, Starbucks asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to delay the vote and have all of the Western New York region stores included in the voting process, instead of the three individual stores in Buffalo that expressly stated they were pursuing unionization. The NLRB denied Starbucks’ request.
After the NLRB decision, Starbucks released a statement that it was “reviewing the NLRB ruling and evaluating its options.” The statement emphasized that the company wants to support and communicate with partners.
Starbucks executives flew out to Buffalo to listen to employee concerns, but the meeting was uncomfortable for some employees.
Investors have also weighed in. Starbucks shares dropped 7% in the midst of the battle, and its fourth-quarter earnings statement and 2022 outlook shows slower growth than expected.
What is next for Mesa workers? Workers United, the group organizing Starbucks Corp., signed up a majority of the Mesa employees in only a few days and has petitioned the NLRB to hold an election. If they are granted an election, they will need a majority vote from all relevant employees to officially unionize. If employees vote to unionize, the union will draw up a contract to establish ground rules for Starbucks and Mesa employees going forward.
What does this mean for the future of the iconic green siren? Time will tell. Now that one store has successfully unionized, and more are rallying to do the same, we may see the drive spread even further.
Surging support for labor unions is beginning to leave its mark on the American economy. By now, most have heard about unionization efforts at major companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, and other corporate giants, but the trend is more widespread than a few companies or even a few industries.