Starbucks Workers In Seattle Vote To Form Union

The campaign to unionize Starbucks stores has made headway in the coffee chain’s hometown, with the union winning an election at a store in Seattle on Tuesday.

Workers at a store in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood voted unanimously to join the union Workers United, which has been organizing baristas around the country since last year. The 9-0 election victory for the campaign brings the total number of union Starbucks stores to seven, including five in New York and one in Arizona.

Workers have filed petitions for union elections at more than 140 other stores in 27 states, making it likely their ranks will grow in the coming weeks. So far, the union has lost just one election out of eight.

Rachel Ybarra, a barista at the Seattle shop, said following the vote count that a resounding victory in the company’s backyard could embolden workers elsewhere to try to form a union.

“I know this is going to make other stores more confident to contact us,” Ybarra said.

A Starbucks spokesperson said in an email that “we still believe in Starbucks’ direct relationship with our partners, but will continue to respect the [legal] process.”

The union campaign, known as Starbucks Workers United, has been organizing store by store around the country, starting with the Buffalo area of New York. Around 13 workers will be part of the bargaining unit at the Seattle store, though other locations number around three dozen.

“I know this is going to make other stores more confident to contact us.”

– Rachel Ybarra, Starbucks barista in Seattle

Starbucks has roughly 9,000 company-owned stores in the U.S., all of which were non-union until last year. The company has opposed the union campaign, with managers holding meetings with workers urging them to vote “no.” The union has accused Starbucks of a litany of unfair labor practices, alleging the company has retaliated against union organizers.

The National Labor Relations Board, which referees collective bargaining in the private sector, found merit in the union’s claims in Arizona, saying Starbucks singled out a pair of pro-union workers, one of whom lost her job. Starbucks has denied the allegations.

Starbucks announced last week that its longtime leader, Howard Schultz, would be returning atop the company to replace outgoing chief executive Kevin Johnson. Schultz will take over at a critical juncture in the unionization effort.

“We have to take a hard look at how we are doing as a company, and as a community of partners,” he said in a message to Starbucks employees last week.

Schultz has dealt with unions at Starbucks in the past. Several of the chain’s original stores and its roastery in the Seattle area were represented by a union in the 1980s. The union was eventually decertified and no longer represented those workers by the early 1990s, a development that Schultz wrote about with approval in a memoir.

Under Schultz’s helm, the company later successfully fended off an organizing effort by the Industrial Workers of the World that began in the early 2000s.

But the current campaign has already notched a historic string of victories, and baristas promise there are more to come.

Sydney Durkin, a worker at the newly unionized Seattle store, warned Tuesday that Schultz would be fighting a “losing battle” if he hopes to slow the organizing campaign.

“If he’s going to come in expecting his old tactics to work, he’s going to find a whole new reality,” Durkin said.

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