Staff at Starbucks flagship store vote to unionize in major victory for nationwide campaign

Workers win biggest election yet with victory in coffee giant’s hometown

Alex Woodward
,Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 21 April 2022 23:38 BST

Starbucks workers at the company’s flagship Seattle Roastery in the coffee giant’s hometown have voted to unionise, marking the union effort’s biggest victory yet as workers at corporate-run stores across the US launch a nationwide organised labour campaign.

The cafe is the 26th corporate-run store and second of three roasteries in the US to win a union election within the last few months. More than 200 stores have filed petitions for union elections, according to Starbucks Workers United, which is organising the campaign.

A ballot count and vote tally from the National Labor Relations Board on 21 April confirmed 38 votes in favour of unionising to 27 votes against.

Starbucks has opposed the campaign and repeatedly denied engaging in union-busting efforts, while workers and union organisers have alleged that the company has staged meetings, sent anti-union messages and relied on interference from management to discourage workers from joining a union.

The union campaign has filed nearly 80 complaints with the government labour board.

“We can resist and thrive, even among a storm of disinformation and fear-mongering perpetrated against our best interests,” roastery worker Brennen Collins said in a statement.

Mark Maddaloni, another Seattle Starbucks worker, said in a statement that “amongst a wave of intimidation and disinformation, we kept our heads held high and forged a new path together”.

CEO Howard Schultz, who recently replaced Kevin Johnson after spending 13 years leading the company, told a company town hall on 4 April that “we can’t ignore what is happening in the country as it relates to companies throughout the country being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionisation”.

During a recent call with managers, Mr Schultz condemned an “outside force that’s desperately trying to disrupt our company”.

Seattle roastery worker Melissa Slabaugh said union organisers “look forward to entering the bargaining process with the welfare of our partners at the forefront of negotiations”.

“Starbucks has repeatedly said they will bargain in good faith, so let them show their intent through actions rather than words,” she said in a statement.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for Starbucks said the company “will respect the process and will bargain in good faith guided by our principles” as laid out in the company’s statement in the wake of the union election in Buffalo, New York, the first corporate-run store to unioise. “We hope that the union does the same.”

The victory by workers at the store on Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood will likely be closely watched by both the company, as well as workers across the nation.

It was not the first store in Seattle to vote to unionise – that honour belonged to a shop at the junction of Broadway and Denny Way, also in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which voted in March to unionise. The store was the seventh nationwide and the first on the West Coast.

Yet the results from the vote at the Reserve Roastery, one of just three in the United States and six globally, considered one of its flagships, will also not be missed by management.

As such, the store, with its brick-oven pizza, bar and vast range of highly aromatic coffees, and food options, draws tourists from across America.

Indeed, several customers visiting Seattle were not entirely supportive of the move, probably less so than those at a usual Starbucks in the city.

“I do think workers have rights, but I personally think the decision to go for a union will backfire. I can say that from my experience in the health sector,” said a woman, Crystal, visiting on business from Boston. “I think this has something to do with life experience.”

Asked what downsides might exist, she said: “Caps for pay and promotion.”

Molly Mulkey was visiting with her family from Dallas, Texas. She said workers had the right to heath care and benefits, but questioned whether someone in the retail trade – as Starbucks workers were – have the same rights to automatic time off.

“The trouble is that people want to go and get a coffee on Veterans Day,” she said. “In retail, you have to put the customer first.”

Yet another visitor, Jenny Chen, from California, where up to five stores are voting to unionise, said she supported. She said she had worked for a Starbucks for a year and she approved of what was happening in Seattle.

“They can negotiate for better pay and other rights,” she said. “So I support what they’re doing.”

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