Just days before workers at three Buffalo-area Starbucks stores are scheduled to begin voting on unions, both workers and management have taken steps that reflect the significant risks involved, including Monday’s attempt by Starbucks to delay the election.
No corporate-owned Starbucks stores in the United States are affiliated with unions. Since workers at the three locations filed petitions in August seeking union affiliation, the company has brought in officials from outside the state — including managers and the head of its North American retail division — to tackle problems in stores in the area.
The union indicted the National Labor Relations Board last week, accusing the company of “unlawfully engaging in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance, grievances and facility closures” during the election campaign.
On Saturday afternoon, Starbucks closed stores in the area so workers could attend a talk by Howard Schultz, the company’s largest individual shareholder and former CEO, at a local hotel.
Attendance at the hearing was voluntary, and Mr. Schultz did not explicitly mention the union campaign. But according to a script provided by Starbucks, he appeared to frequently hint at the union’s efforts.
“We are not a perfect company,” Mr. Schultz told the staff at the meeting, which included baristas, directors and company officials. “Mistakes happen. We learn from them and try to fix them.” He argued that the company’s history of doing the right thing by its employees, including giving them health care and equity benefits, showed that it had their best interests in mind.
On a visit to the area in September to speak with managers, he said on Saturday, “I heard some things I hadn’t heard before about the condition of some of the stores that some of you worked in,” without specifying the issues. “I made a promise to the managers that all of this would be addressed and fixed.”
Union-supporting workers have cited chronic staff shortages, inadequate training and wage increases that fail to keep pace with seniority. Some say the problems were exacerbated by the epidemic, but it was long before it. In October, the company announced a new payment plan that includes wage increases.
Union supporters, who are seeking to become part of Trade Union, a subsidiary of the giant Service Employees International Federation, say they want to ensure they have a say in solving problems that arise on the job.
The National Labor Relations Board is set to begin sending out ballots to workers at the three stores on Wednesday; They are due to return by the 8th of December. Under a ruling in October by a regional Labor Council official, the three stores are set to hold separate elections, meaning a simple majority in any store will create a union.
But on Monday, Starbucks appealed the ruling, arguing that the acting regional director for the board erred in not holding a single election that would include all Buffalo-area stores instead. She asked the NLRB in Washington to review the decision, and to stop mailing ballots until the board of directors approves it. Usually one larger election in favor of the employer.
Some of the workers who attended Mr. Schulz’s talk were perplexed by a story he told about the Holocaust, in which he noted that only a small portion of the prisoners in German concentration camps received blankets but often shared them with fellow prisoners.
“A big part of that story is interconnected with what we tried to do at Starbucks is to share our blanket,” Mr. Schultz said, according to the script.
“It felt like it wasn’t a very apt analogy,” Colin Cochran, a barista and union supporter in Buffalo whose shop was not one of the three scheduled elections, said in a text message to a reporter.
After Mr. Schultz finished his remarks, a union supporter stood up and urged Starbucks to adopt a set of “fair election principles” that include allowing the union to make its case for workers at company time.
Some in the audience cheered the worker, while others cheered the employee who spoke out to criticize the union’s campaign, the video provided by the company shows. Bloomberg reported earlier about the meeting.
Union supporters complained about the presence of officials outside the state.
Former Labor Council officials say the presence of officials, closures of stores in the area and significant increases in the number of employees in stores that have applied for union elections could harm the so-called lab conditions that are supposed to prevail during the election campaign, leading the council to overturn the outcome should the union lose. .
Starbucks said it doesn’t believe any of its actions will require an election set aside, and that company officials are helping solve operational issues, such as staff shortages and a lack of training. The company said it often makes similar changes in other cities.
After workers began their union campaign, Starbucks closed a few Buffalo-area stores, and turned one into a training facility. Two stores reopened.
Sierra Hayes, who worked as a barista at Starbucks in the Buffalo area while attending college for the past three years, said she found having officials out of town helpful. Ms. Hayes cited a redesign of her store that officials oversaw, which she said made working there more efficient.
In an interview given by a Starbucks spokesperson, Ms Hayes said supervisors have responded to employee input during her time at the company and that she is concerned that having a union could change that.
“I feel like adding a third party is spoiling the relationship that’s been going so well so far,” she said. “A lot of the great things we have at Starbucks, the benefits, were ideas from the partners.”
The union also accuses the company of seeking to reduce its support by moving or hiring a large number of additional workers in two of the three stores that will vote.
According to the union, about 20 employees were eligible to vote at a convenience store near the Buffalo airport when the workers filed their petition in late August. The company said soon after that there were 27 eligible voters in store; The most recent list of eligible voters the company shared with the union includes 46 workers.
Richard Bensinger, the former organizational director of the AFL-CIO that helps organize Starbucks employees for Workers United, said the increase in numbers was significant because support for the union was unanimous among workers the union deemed eligible at election time filing.
“The company knew that with 100 percent support, it had to do something to significantly disrupt the campaign,” Bensinger said in an email.
Wilma B. Lippmann, a former president of the NLRB, said the board could conclude that the company had unlawfully “packed” the store with voters if their hiring or transportation did not serve any legitimate business purpose and if the company had reason to believe that they were likely to. Syndicate conflict. Old store employees said adding workers increased staffing and led to crowding behind the bar.
Starbucks said its recent voter list included a number of workers from other stores who helped fill the staff shortage at the airport site. She said these workers are eligible to vote under the Labor Council’s criteria.