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Workers at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, have voted to unionize.

Published on: 10 December 2021 07:00 AM
Members react during Starbucks union vote in Buffalo, New York, U.S., December 9, 2021.
Members react during Starbucks union vote in Buffalo, New York, U.S., December 9, 2021.

A Brief Summary

Starbucks Coffee chain workers Voted to become first unionized at a company-owned location in the United States. Experts say Starbucks results may encourage union activity at other companies. The Vote count for the third store is still under review, could take early next year to be finalized. The election involved just over 100 workers altogether. The company's lawyer says the union will challenge the results. Some local baristas had decried what they called aggressive company tactics.

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Employees at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, voted to become a union on Thursday, making it the company's first unionized company-owned location in the United States. Workers at a second facility in the city voted to oppose the organizing drive.

Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, was voted in by employees at one Starbucks branch in Buffalo.

According to Ian Hayes, an attorney for the union, the vote count for a third store in the upstate New York city ended without a conclusive result because a handful of ballots were still being reviewed, a process that might take until early next year.

In a message to employees following the vote, Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks North America, said, "We will keep listening." "As the NLRB process continues, these are preliminary outcomes with no immediate changes to our partner relationship."

The results are being keenly studied as corporate America considers new union organizing campaigns in the face of a labor shortage in the United States that has already resulted in increased salaries at the most major store and restaurant chains. According to experts, the Starbucks results may motivate other corporations to form unions.

"Despite the fact that there are only a few people involved, the outcome has enormous symbolic significance," said John Logan, a labor professor at San Francisco State University.

After the results of the previous election, which the union lost, were reversed last month, Amazon.com Inc is facing a new election at one of its Alabama warehouses.

The election in Buffalo drew just over 100 workers, a minuscule percentage of Starbucks' 220,000-strong workforce across the United States.

Nonetheless, the union victory may inspire other baristas to organize at some of the company's more than 8,000 other cafes across the United States. Three other Buffalo-area stores, as well as one in Mesa, Arizona, have already filed unionization petitions with the National Labor Relations Board.

"I am really optimistic," said James Skretta, a barista at one of the other New York outlets that have called for a vote. "We see this as confirmation of what we've been doing."

Skretta will "withstand what we know will continue to be an aggressive anti-union campaign" as a result of the decision, they said.

On Thursday, shares of the Seattle-based corporation finished at $115.35, down almost 1%.

Some local baristas had criticized what they described as pushy company methods, such as sending executives to Buffalo stores, having meetings with staff, and even bringing in ex-CEO Howard Schultz to speak to employees and laud the merits of existing wage rises and benefits.

Starbucks disputes that any of its actions were in any way anti-union.

During the 1980s, the company operated many unionized cafés and a roastery in the United States, but they were all decertified. More recent organizing campaigns in Philadelphia and New York City were defeated. In the year 2020, one location in Canada became a unionized workplace.

About 15 Starbucks employees in Buffalo who support the union effort gathered in a room to watch the election results. When they realized they had enough votes to win the first business to be counted, on Elmwood Avenue, several people leaped, screamed, and hugged.

The vote in favor of joining the union was 19-8.

The second store on Camp Road's baristas and shift managers voted 12-8 to reject the union. During a press conference, Hayes, the union's lawyer, stated that the union will appeal the results.

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