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SB Workers United

Workers Form First Union at Starbucks

Buffalo Starbucks employees vote to join Workers United, the first union at the coffee giant

Brian Young's picture
Dec 09, 2021

Workers at a Buffalo-area Starbucks have formed the company’s first union. Votes were counted at the Elmwood Rd store on Thursday afternoon making them the first corporate location in the company’s history to vote in a union. Two other locations in the Buffalo area are counting votes on Thursday as well.

According to preliminary vote results, 19 workers voted for the union and 8 voted no. No ballots were challenged by the company or the workers. A second store on Camp Rd in Buffalo narrowly rejected the union with a vote of 8 for and 12 against with two challenged ballots and one voided ballot. Results at the third location have come back inconclusive with 15 voting for the union, 9 against the union. However, there are 7 ballots being challenged so these ballots will decide the election.

If all three of the stores had voted in the union, which is calling itself Starbucks Workers United, about 80 people would be represented. The workers will become members of Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

As UCOMM previously reported, Buffalo Starbucks workers have faced an intense anti-union campaign including being forced to sit in captive audience meetings to discourage them from voting yes.

INSIDE A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE MEETING

While this strategy previously worked for the company in stopping union drives in Philadelphia and New York City, Buffalo workers held firm and voted to have a voice on the job. They also gained national attention when elected officials like Senator Bernie Sanders held a national Livestream meeting to highlight their work.

The victory in Buffalo also marks the highest-profile organizing win at a national food chain. Currently, the restaurant industry is the least organized in the country even as unions like SEIU have been working for a decade to organize fast-food workers through the Fight for $15 campaign.

In addition to the three locations that are counting votes on Thursday, three other Buffalo locations and one in Arizona have filed for an election.

"I think a unionized Starbucks restaurant will demonstrate to workers ... that it's not easy, but they can do it," said Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University told NPR. "We will likely see many, many more organizing drives."

It is important to note that these results are preliminary, and it is likely that the company will file a lawsuit to try and overturn the election. It is also likely that they will play hardball in negotiating the first contract with these workers.

While it is clear that the union won’t win all three locations, Richard Bensinger, an organizer with Workers United who was brought in to help usher the workers through the union election process told the HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson, "We have to win one. It doesn’t matter if it’s two or three. We would like to win two or three. But they have to vote for it [at one]."

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