Starbucks labor campaign builds momentum

Starbucks workers added to the momentum of a union campaign that went public in late August and upended decades of unionless work at company-owned stores.

On Thursday and Friday, workers at six stores in upstate New York voted to unionize, according to the National Labor Relations Board, bringing to 16 the total number of company-owned stores where workers live. workers supported a union. The union, Workers United, was also in the lead at a Kansas store whose votes were counted on Friday, but the number of disputed ballots leaves the outcome in doubt until their status can be resolved.

The union has lost only one election so far, but it is formally contesting the result.

Since the union won its first two election victories that ended in December, workers at more than 175 other stores in at least 25 states have filed nominations for union elections, out of about 9,000 company-owned stores in the USA. The labor board will count ballots in at least three more stores next week.

The organizing success at Starbucks appears to reflect growing worker interest in organizing, including efforts at Amazon, where workers last week voted to unionize a Staten Island warehouse by a significant margin.

On Wednesday, Labor Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo announced that union election filings were up more than 50% in the previous six months compared to the same period a year earlier. Ms Abruzzo expressed concern that funding and staffing shortages were making it difficult for the agency to keep up with activity, saying in a statement that the council “needs a significant increase in funding to carry out the mission of the agency”.

Starbucks has sought to persuade workers not to unionize by holding anti-union meetings with workers and conversations between managers and individual employees, but some employees say the meetings have only galvanized their support for unionization.

In some cases, Starbucks has also sent a number of senior managers to out-of-town stores, a move the company says is aimed at addressing operational issues such as staffing and training, but which some union supporters said they find intimidating.

The union has accused Starbucks of seeking to cut working hours nationwide to encourage long-serving employees to leave the company and replace them with workers who are more skeptical of unionization. And the union says Starbucks retaliated against workers for supporting the union by disciplining or firing them. Last month, the labor board filed a formal complaint against Starbucks for retaliating against two Arizona employees, a step it takes after finding the merits of charges against employers or unions. .

The company denied cutting working hours to induce employees to leave, saying it was scheduling workers in response to customer demand, and it denied accusations of union busting.

As the labor campaign gathered pace in March, the company announced that Kevin Johnson, who had served as chief executive since 2017, would be replaced on an interim basis by Howard Schultz, who had led the company twice before and remained on the job. one of its biggest investors.

Some investors who had warned Mr Johnson that the company’s union-busting tactics could harm his reputation expressed optimism that the management change could lead to a change in Starbucks’ stance towards the union. But the company quickly announced that it would not agree to remain neutral in union elections, as the union had demanded, which dampened those hopes.

On Monday, the same day Mr. Schultz returned as chief executive, the company fired Laila Dalton, one of two Arizona workers whom the NLRB had accused Starbucks of retaliating against in March. The company said Ms Dalton broke company rules by recording her colleagues’ conversations without their permission.

“A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt it from the standards we have always maintained,” Reggie Borges, a company spokesman, said in a statement, using the term of the business for one employee.

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