Starbucks Workers at Buffalo-Area Store Vote in Favor of Unionizing

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Baristas in Buffalo, New York, have voted to form the coffee giant’s first American coffee shop in its 50-year history, as workers across the country push companies for better wages and benefits in a tight labor market.

The result was a victory for coffee shop workers, who petitioned in August to vote on forming a union to have a direct channel to negotiate with the company, and a blow to Starbucks, which had spent months pleading with Buffalo-area baristas to vote against a worker. the body.

“We did it, despite everything the company threw at us,” said Michelle Eisen, a Buffalo Starbucks barista who voted to join unions and helped organize the campaign, called Starbucks Workers United.

Michelle Eisen, a Starbucks barista who works for the store who voted to join unions and who helped organize the campaign, is at the Starbucks United Workers’ office in Buffalo.


Libby Marsh for The Wall Street Journal

In the three separate store elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday, the federal agency said one store voted for unionization, one voted against, and the result in a third was inconclusive. The Labor Council said it would review challenges from both sides in that store’s election.

The pro-union workers said they would prompt the company to bargain with them over wages and other matters. Union leaders said they intended to challenge the results of the second store vote against unions, citing voting irregularities.

Starbucks spokesman Reggie Burgess noted the splitting of election results and said the company values ​​all of its employees. “We will continue to focus on the best Starbucks experience we can offer each partner and our customers,” he said.

Some other unions on Thursday pointed to the victory as a sign of the growing strength of labor advocacy in the United States. In September, popular support for unions reached the highest level recently documented in 1965, according to Gallup.

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Workers at other major US companies have demanded more employers as companies struggle with labor shortages and record numbers of freelance workers this year. In recent months, workers have gone on strike for Deere & Co, a maker of construction and farm machinery, and snack producer Mondelez International Inc. maker of Volvo commercial trucks, and supplier of Kellogg breakfast cereals. company

Industry analysts said the consolidation of one of Starbucks’ 9,000 stores is likely to have little immediate impact on Starbucks’ daily operations and business. The company recently said it would increase wages to try to help recruit and retain employees.

“At this point, these locations are among the few that are involved in the process,” Brett Levy, restaurant analyst at Wall Street’s MKM Partners, said in a note to clients Thursday.

Rosanne Williams, Starbucks’ president of North America, said the union store would not affect the company’s operations. “It doesn’t really change my job or my retail partners’ job at all,” Ms Williams said in an interview Thursday, referring to the company’s coffee maker.

The union’s campaign held Starbucks executives on hold for several months, and it caught the attention of chain workers outside of Buffalo. A Starbucks store in Mesa, Arizona, filed a petition last month to join a union, with supportive baristas working with the same United Labor Union, saying they were inspired by Buffalo’s efforts.

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A “Starbucks Customer for a Starbucks Association” sign on the lawn in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village earlier this week.

An NLRB hearing on three additional stores in Buffalo that also filed a union petition is set to begin on Friday.

Starbucks executives spent months lobbying Buffalo workers to vote against unions, traveling to town and meeting with workers to assess their concerns. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said this week that unions will erode and disrupt the company’s direct relationship with its workers. The Seattle-based chain has long touted employee benefits such as health insurance and parental leave for hourly employees.

Unions are rare in American restaurants. Less than 2% of workers in the foodservice and bar sector were union members as of last year, according to the Labor Department.

According to the company, more than half of the 6,500 Starbucks airports in the United States, grocery stores, casinos and other licensed locations are affiliated with the unions. The Buffalo Association represents the first union for a Starbucks-owned location; The company has 9,000 of its 15,500 US coffee shops.

Not every working effort this year was successful. Workers at company

He sought to create a union in the Alabama warehouse, but employees there voted against the effort in April. Federal labor officials in November ordered a new vote, claiming that Amazon had violated labor law while campaigning against regulation.

Tens of thousands of American workers are on strike and thousands more are trying to form unions. The Wall Street Journal examines the roots of this new labor activism and speaks with a business economist for more context on the changing landscape of American labor. Photo: Alyssa Keon/Associated Press

Starbucks workers organized by the United Workers Organization of New York, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Federation, petitioned the NLRB in August to join a union. Starbucks in October announced wage increases, saying the average wage for a barista in the United States would rise by next summer to nearly $17 an hour from $14.

The chain also added 70 employees to enlist this year to try to bolster its workforce, install new cafe equipment, and said it will improve the schedule to help with increasingly complex beverage orders. Starbucks has sent letters to its workers and managers across the United States about Buffalo, saying the company has heard their concerns because employees have raised complaints in some other markets.

The United Workers’ Organization launched a campaign that drew national attention, calling the company’s efforts in Buffalo an intervention. “[It] James Skretta, a Buffalo Starbucks worker from one of the three additional stores that later petitioned the union, said, referring to the company’s approach.

Starbucks’ Williams, who spent weeks in Buffalo, said the company has responded in the market as it does in any other state with problems. On Thursday, it said the company has hired 200 baristas in the Buffalo area in recent months to help address store conditions.

Mr Johnson said this week that Starbucks will honor the result of the vote, and maintain positive relationships with chain employees. “I feel proud and grateful,” he said, referring to Starbucks workers. “I look to the future with optimism.”

write to Heather Haddon at

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