Historical birth of unions in Starbucks coffee shops in the United States

Cries of joy and hugs erupted, Thursday, December 9, at the announcement of the results of a historic vote which confirms the creation of the first union in a Starbucks establishment in the United States.

“It is the culmination of a long road”, responded Michelle Eisen, employed for more than eleven years in the café in question, Elmwood Avenue, in Buffalo, in the State of New York, in the northeast of the country. The battle was so hard, she says, “With everything Starbucks threw in our faces”.

Two stars of the left wing of the American Democratic Party quickly congratulated the employees on Twitter, Bernie Sanders hailing “historic” victory while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accompanied her message with a raised fist.

The mood darkened for a while in the room where the campaign leaders had gathered, as the votes of the employees of another café in the Buffalo area showed that they were mostly against the creation of a union. But smiles returned after the count in favor of the ” Yes “ in another cafe, near the airport.

As appeals have been filed by the union and the company on this specific ballot, the final results have yet to be confirmed but the union is confident. “It’s such a huge victory, a dream come true”, added Lexi Rizzo, employee in this establishment.

“I support them”

Now, say new union members, Starbucks must come to the bargaining table. The company continues to believe that the working conditions it offers do not justify the creation of an intermediary between employees and management. Corn “She respects the right to [ses] partners to form a union ”, said a representative of the company. Starbucks is now awaiting certification of the results next week before announcing the next step, she added.

Campaign organizers filed for unionization under the “Starbucks Workers United” (SWU) banner at the end of August and the ballots were sent to all employees on November 10. The latter had until Wednesday to refer them to the American agency in charge of labor law (NLRB), which carried out the count online on Thursday.

Earlier today, no sign of the historic vote was visible at the facility on Elmwood Avenue. The ten or so waiters simply rushed to prepare customers’ orders. “They are part of my daily life and it is normal that they have a decent salary”, remarked one of them, Steve Boyd, a 60-year-old lawyer, when he left the establishment. If it is necessary to create a union to have better working conditions, “So I support them. “

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Intense cadences

Like the unionization attempt at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama in the spring, the Starbucks worker campaign has gained attention far beyond the streets of Buffalo. It reflects the discontent of employees determined to fight, at a time when the dynamics of the labor market are favorable to them, notes Cedric de Leon, professor of sociology at Massachusetts Amherst University.

While many employers struggle to recruit, “The bargaining power of employees is very high at the moment”, he explains, referring to the many strikes that have punctuated the month of October or the millions of Americans who have chosen in recent months to resign.

When he joined Starbucks in May, Will Westlake, 24, congratulated himself on working for a group that regularly brandishes its progressive values ​​and generally offers better working conditions than other cafes.

“But when I started, I realized that this was not necessarily the case”, he tells Agence France-Presse (AFP). He was particularly shocked to find that people who had worked for several years were earning little more than him, and he also complains of intense work speeds.

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“We sell drinks at eight, nine dollars, every 30 seconds, throughout the day, but the company has not caught up with the demand” by hiring more employees, he explains. In this context, “We can either resign or, since we care about the company, try to change things by forming a union”.

The pandemic has heightened the frustrations of employees, many of them believing that they have not received enough support to cope with the new health requirements.

The start of a wave?

The pro-unions were all the more motivated as Starbucks showed resistance. A few weeks after the launch of the union mobilization, the group announced several measures such as raising its minimum wage or better consideration of seniority. But he also, according to the organizers of the campaign, deployed the great means to try to convince the employees to vote no, in particular sending a battalion of executives in the region to supervise the teams and try to convince the hesitant employees. Iconic former boss Howard Schultz even came to host a meeting in early November.

Starbucks has also launched a legal battle, asking first that the twenty establishments in the area vote together, then asking that the rejection of this first request be invalidated. In vain.

If the group is so worried about the arrival of a union, even in just one cafe out of the 9,000 it manages in the country, “It’s good because it could trigger a wave within the company”, notes Cedric de Leon. Employees of other coffee shops in Buffalo as well as one establishment in Arizona recently asked to be able to organize votes in order to join the SWU.

The World with AFP

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Historical birth of unions in Starbucks coffee shops in the United States

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