organized labor

For the First Time Ever, a Starbucks Store Has Voted to Form a Union

Union organizers in Buffalo, New York, in October. Photo: Carolyn Thompson/AP/Shutterstock

In a historic move, Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York have voted to form the chain’s first U.S. union. Workers there voted over 2-1 on Thursday to unionize with Workers United, an affiliate of the SEIU. The union appears to have lost a bid to unionize a second location and the results of an election at a third store are pending review of a number of challenged ballots.

Still, the union’s preliminary victory will likely seed the ground for union drives in other locations and across the fast-food industry, which has mostly fended off efforts by workers to organize. Already, Starbucks workers in Arizona have petitioned the NLRB for a union election with Workers United.

The union initially failed to win a second Buffalo location, though an attorney for the union has suggested that a consequential number of ballots may have been accidentally delivered to a neighboring regional office for Senator Chuck Schumer rather than the regional NLRB, which counts the votes. Election results at a third store are inconclusive pending review of a number of challenged ballots, according to the union.

Starbucks had strenuously opposed the union drive, and the union filed a federal labor charge alleging violations of labor law. “Every success we have ever achieved has been in direct partnership with one another — without an outside party between us,” Rossann Williams, the president of Starbucks’ U.S. retail, told workers in an open letter. Company founder and former CEO Howard Schultz traveled to Buffalo to stress the company’s pay and benefits and instead made headlines for deploying a Holocaust analogy in his speech. Corporate representatives visited the Buffalo stores in an attempt to convince workers not to unionize. “It cannot be understated just how unethical the onslaught of managers and corporate presence has been in Buffalo during this union campaign,” Gianna Reeve, a worker at the Camp Road Starbucks location, told Intelligencer in November.

For the First Time Ever, a Starbucks Store Votes to Unionize