Massachusetts Starbucks workers push to unionize after New York win

Boston workers at two stores were inspired by Buffalo workers who succeeded in unionizing in at least one branch

Starbucks workers at two stores in Massachusetts have filed for union elections to join SEIU affiliate Workers United, citing inspiration from the union organizing campaign in Buffalo, New York.

In Buffalo at least one Starbucks branch has successfully won their union election, becoming the first corporate Starbucks location to unionize in the US, a victory that’s being hailed as a significant win for the US labor movement.

The workers at stores on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and Harvard Avenue in Brookline, announced their intent to unionize in a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson on 13 December.

“We were very inspired by the work that Buffalo was putting toward unionizing, particularly because as employees on the ground, the baristas on the floor understand how the business really flows day to day and builds our community in this connection,” said KyIah Clay, a barista at the Commonwealth Avenue Starbucks location for one year. “It really reminded us that our voice matters quite a bit and it’s very often not listened to, so we were really just feeling empowered to come together, amplify our voices, and tell corporate what we think can make Starbucks even better than it already is.”

Workers noted understaffing has been a severe problem in stores throughout the Boston area, an issue cited by workers throughout the Buffalo area ahead of the union drive, as some Starbucks locations throughout the area have closed or reduced hours.

In the Buffalo area, workers have faced an aggressive anti-union campaign led by Starbucks corporate. Dozens of executives descended into the Buffalo area in response to the union organizing drive, flooding stores with their presence and holding captive audience meetings with workers to try to persuade them to vote against unionizing.

The Massachusetts workers are bracing for a similar campaign against their unionizing efforts from corporate, while pushing the company to adopt the same fair election principles that workers in Buffalo have asked the company to uphold.

“We’re preparing our store for this,” said Ash O’Neil, a Starbucks barista for two years who has been at the Commonwealth location for about a year. “Before we went public with this news, we had a meeting with about 18 employees where we went over all of the incidents that happened in Buffalo, prepared them for it, explained what might happen, and acted out scenarios. We want to make sure that they’re all informed and prepared because we’re aware of how hard they’re coming down on stores for unionizing.”

Tyler Daguerre, a barista at the Starbucks store on Harvard Avenue in Brookline, noted that their district manager and regional manager have already responded to the union organizing campaign with in-store visits and a planned listening session for 14 December that was cancelled without explanation.

“I think that they’re afraid of the unionization effort, and I’m sure that corporate is telling them to do whatever they can to persuade workers right now,” said Daguerre. “We rarely get a visit from corporate management or anything like that, but there’s definitely been an increased presence.”

Daguerre also expressed concerns over Starbucks scapegoating store managers over unionizing efforts, as several store managers in the Buffalo area resigned shortly after the union campaign went public and a store manager in Arizona was terminated after she reached out to workers in Buffalo to alert them that Starbucks was sending managers and executives from around the US to Buffalo with the intent to stop the unionization effort.

Three more store locations in Buffalo are awaiting their union elections to be scheduled, after three store locations had their votes tallied on 8 December, with one outright winning their election, a second election to be determined based on challenged ballots, and a third election being challenged by the union over concerns that some ballots were missing from the count.

In response to the union victory, Starbucks management posted a letter for workers saying they were “saddened” by the results of the election.

Workers at the three Buffalo Starbucks locations still awaiting votes have reported retaliation from corporate for union organizing, including disciplinary write-ups and changes to schedules of workers who are involved in the union campaign.

A Starbucks store in Mesa, Arizona, has also filed for a union election.


Michael Sainato

The GuardianTramp

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