Employees at a Starbucks store in the Buffalo, New York, area have voted to organise, making it the only one of the nearly 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States to do so. The vote represents an important symbolic victory for labour at a time when workers across the country are expressing dissatisfaction with wages and working conditions.
In its decision, announced on Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board, the National Labor Relations Board posed a significant challenge to Starbucks’ labour model. The company has argued that its employees enjoy some of the best wages and benefits in the retail and restaurant industries and therefore do not require representation by a union.
During another election, the union was ahead, but by a margin that fell short of a total number of votes that the union was attempting to reject via legal challenges. The regional director of the labour agency must handle the issues that have arisen in the next days or weeks before a resolution can be reached. A third business, according to the board, voted against unionisation, while a union lawyer claimed that some votes were handed to the agency but were not tallied because they were not properly tabulated.
Throughout the campaign, the unionised employees, who will be joining Workers United, an affiliate of the massive Service Employees International Union, received inquiries from Starbucks employees all over the country who said they were paying close attention and were interested in joining the union, too.
The firm’s employees expressed dissatisfaction with understaffing and inadequate training when they applied for union representation at the stores in late August, issues that had plagued the company for years but which looked to have become worse during the outbreak. This kind of issue is not unique to Starbucks, and it has been a source of concern for employees across the restaurant and retail sectors for many years.
The election was conducted via the use of postal ballots, which were due on Wednesday. Workers at three other shops in the Buffalo region submitted the necessary paperwork to conduct union elections in November, although it was unclear when the polls would take place at those locations at the time.
A video of a meeting in September, which was obtained by The New York Times, showed a district manager from Arizona telling co-workers that the firm had requested her assistance in “saving” the company from unionisation in Buffalo.
According to a number of employees who are union members, the presence of these authorities was frightening and at times, unreal. They also expressed dissatisfaction with Starbucks for temporarily closing several locations in the region, which they considered disruptive, and for hiring an excessive number of employees in at least one of the three stores that had elections. Starbucks has not responded to the complaints. The employees said that as a result of this, support for unionisation at the business had dwindled.
Starbucks has said that it has despatched out-of-town executives and temporarily shuttered locations in order to assist in the resolution of personnel and training issues, as well as the remodelling of stores in order to improve their efficiency. Since the spring, when coronavirus infection rates declined and shop traffic increased, the firm has boosted personnel to cope with the increased number of employees reporting unwell. The corporation claims to have taken similar efforts throughout the nation since then.
One of the more contentious issues at the shop where the vote was not settled, which was located near the Buffalo airport, was whether or not numerous employees who cast votes were truly employed by the business. The union asserts that they were previously employed at another business in the vicinity and that they only worked at the airport store for a brief length of time before being fired. According to the corporation, they were qualified to vote under the regulations of the labour board.
The decision might be critical in deciding the union’s bargaining power when it comes time to negotiate a new contract with management. It is required by law that a company engage in good faith bargaining with a union; however, this does not imply that the company must ultimately agree to a contract, and the repercussions of failing to negotiate in good faith are minimal.
When faced with such circumstances, Professor Andrias said that the ability to win a contract is frequently dependent on the amount of economic pressure the union can apply, and that having a second unionised store might be beneficial in this respect.
Starbucks has been the target of other union organising campaigns in the past, including one in New York City in the 2000s and one in Philadelphia in 2019, during which the company fired two employees who were involved in the organising effort, a move that was later found to be illegal by a labour board judge. The corporation filed an appeal against the verdict, and a decision has not yet been reached.
Neither of those initiatives was successful, but Starbucks employees who work in locations owned by other corporations and who run them under licence agreements are represented by a union. Employees at a company-owned shop in Canada recently voted to form a union.
In the 1980s, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) represented a small number of the company’s early outlets in Seattle, which included a handful of unionised stores. The union was decertified as a result of this decision.