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Starbucks workers at four U.S. locations voted unanimously to form a union this week, scoring the latest in a string of victories for a burgeoning organizing movement that has spread to coffee shops in dozens of states nationwide even as management ramps up its anti-union activity.
Within a span of just three days, two Starbucks shops in the Boston area as well as locations in Eugene, Oregon and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania voted to join Workers United, a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“We are so proud to become the first union Starbucks café in Pennsylvania,” the Bloomfield Starbucks Organizing Committee said in a statement Wednesday. “We are happy to carry the torch in Pittsburgh. Our win today is a win for baristas across the Commonwealth, and all workers in the struggle to organize.”
The election wins followed union victories at six Starbucks locations in upstate New York at the tail-end of last week. As of Wednesday, according to Workers United, 20 total Starbucks shops in the U.S. have voted to unionize and at least 200 have filed for a union election in a bid to secure better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Fresh wins by the nascent Starbucks union movement came as the company’s interim CEO Howard Schultz — now in his third stint as chief executive — continued his efforts to hamper the growing organizing drive.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Schultz told store leaders during a virtual forum earlier this week that he is moving to expand benefits for Starbucks workers. But he added that the new benefits might exclude unionized staff, citing a federal law barring companies from changing employment terms for unionized workers without bargaining with the union.
Cathy Creighton, a labor law expert at Cornell University and a former lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), told the Journal that Schultz’s discussion of benefits that wouldn’t automatically apply to unionized workers is “a union-avoidance technique.”
Matthew Bodie, another former NLRB attorney, echoed that assessment in an interview with the New York Times. According to the newspaper, Bodie said that Schultz’s comments could “amount to evidence of an intent to bargain in bad faith by seeking to give union employees a worse deal than nonunion employees, which is… considered an unfair labor practice.”
Starbucks management has also continued firing and disciplining union organizers, a practice that has drawn formal complaints from the NLRB. Starbucks workers across the country say they’ve seen their hours cut significantly since the national organizing push started, prompting allegations that the company is illegally retaliating against union leaders and supporters.
VICE News reported over the weekend that Starbucks “fired a barista and organizing committee member at a store in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday after blaming her for purposely breaking a sink — just days before employees at the store begin voting on whether to unionize.”
According to the progressive media outlet More Perfect Union, the NLRB on Wednesday filed a new complaint alleging that Starbucks unlawfully “interrogated” and “threatened” Phoenix workers for unionizing.
“The NLRB is seeking to require Starbucks to stop union busting, read workers their union rights, and compensate [individual workers] for the harm they caused them,” More Perfect Union noted. “Starbucks has until April 27th to respond.”
This story was first posted at Common Dreams.
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