Employees at a Starbucks coffee shop in New York state have decided to form the first labour union at a Starbucks location since the 1980s.
At Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, 19 employees out of a total of 27 voted in favour. The vote is expected to shake the huge coffee chain’s brand, despite the small numbers involved.
Starbucks has gone to great lengths to urge employees not to join a union, including flying in top executives.
Union supporters gathered in Buffalo to watch the vote count via Zoom and rejoiced when the results were announced. However, employees at a second Buffalo location voted against forming a union. Because some of the ballots are being reviewed, the vote on a third is still undecided. In total, around 100 baristas and managers participated.
Starbucks employees in Buffalo began organising in August, claiming they were overworked but disregarded by the company. According to them, the smartphone app has increased their burden by allowing several sophisticated requests to arrive in quick succession, which they must then fulfil under time constraints.
The vote could establish a precedent for the coffee giant, which has over 8,000 company-owned locations across the United States and has not had a union since the 1980s.
The vote took place despite the company’s all-out effort over the previous four months to convince employees to vote no.
According to Workers United, the union with which the new Starbucks location will be associated, the Buffalo stores were flooded with out-of-town Starbucks managers to try to discourage discussion of the matter among employees,
Starbucks, which refers to its employees as partners, offers higher salaries and benefits than many other service businesses, including health insurance, stock options, paid parental leave, and free online college tuition.
With fairtrade programmes and anti-racism training, it also represents the progressive ideals of many of its employees.
Staff at many Buffalo locations complained in August that their workload had become unmanageable due to absences and increased consumer demand.