Starbucks workers at 3 more Buffalo-area stores vote to unionize

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Employees of three other Buffalo-area Starbucks voted to unionize, bringing the total number of company-owned stores with a union six, out of about 9,000 nationwide.

The results, announced by the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, were the latest development in one of the most daunting challenges to a big business by organized labor in years. Workers at two Buffalo-area stores voted to unionize in December, while a third store voted to unionize in Mesa, Ariz., last month, dealing a blow to the union-free model that has prevailed at the coffee retail giant for decades.

Since the December votes, workers at more than 100 Starbucks stores in more than 25 states have submitted nominations for union elections, in which they seek to join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Workers in cities such as Seattle, Boston, Rochester, NY and Knoxville, Tennessee have started voting or will do so this month.

“These workers have fought so hard for their union,” Gary Bonadonna Jr., the leader of Workers United in upstate New York, said in a statement. “We’ve had their backs during this campaign and we will continue to have their backs at the bargaining table.”

Reggie Borges, a spokesperson for Starbucks, said in a statement, “We will respect process and negotiate in good faith guided by our principles. We hope the union will do the same.

The vote counts – 8 to 7, 15 to 12 and 15 to 12 – came as tension between the union and the company escalated.

The union argues that Starbucks has systematically cut hours across the country to incentivize long-serving employees to leave so it can replace them with workers who are not union-friendly. He also said Starbucks recently retaliated against pro-union Buffalo employees by urging them to leave the company for limiting their availability to work and firing someone for time and work violations. attendance.

In early February, the company fired seven Memphis employees who had sought to unionize, citing safety and security policies.

“Starbucks also uses policies that have not been applied before, and policies that would not have resulted in dismissal, as a pretext to fire union leaders,” the union said in a statement, adding that it was convinced that the dismissed workers would be reinstated.

Last week, the union filed about 20 unfair labor practice charges, many of which accused Starbucks of targeting union supporters for harsher treatment.

Mr Borges said in an email that “any allegations of union busting are categorically false”. He said the company does not consistently reduce hours, which typically fall during the sluggish winter months of January and February. Starbucks typically tries to honor workers’ preferences for lower availability, he added, but it couldn’t do that at a Buffalo store where multiple employees had sought to lower their availability at once. He said a worker fired due to time and attendance issues had previously been cited for lateness cases.

Amy Zdravecky, management attorney at Barnes & Thornburg, said it was hard to imagine the union losing momentum at this stage, except following developments at the bargaining table – for example, if the union was negotiating a contract that the workers considered disappointing. .

“Until the employees see what they are going to get or not get in the negotiations, the union has the advantage – they can come out and tell the employees we will do all these things for you,” Ms Zdravecky said. .

Starbucks workers in Buffalo filed an initial round of petitions to hold union elections in late August, citing concerns such as understaffing and workplace safety amid the pandemic, as well as a desire to have more of their a say in the management of their stores.

The company quickly dispatched officials and out-of-town officials to the city, including Starbucks’ retail president for North America, whose presence union supporters say was considered intimidating and sometimes surreal.

Starbucks said officials were trying to address operational issues such as poor training and inefficient store layouts. Some pointed to the potential downsides of unionizing in meetings and discussions with workers.

The company also dramatically increased the number of workers in at least one of the top three voting stores, a move the company said was intended to reduce staffing shortages, but which the union says was intended to dilute his support. The union later successfully challenged the ballots of some of these workers on the grounds that they were not actually based in the store, which helped secure its victory there.

Workers at one of the locations where the union won on Wednesday, known as Walden & Anderson, said the company’s approach to their store was even more disruptive than its actions in Buffalo-area stores that voted in the fall.

Starbucks closed the Walden & Anderson store for about two months from early September and turned it into a training facility, sending workers to other locations during that time.

Union campaign leaders at the store said it made it harder for them to communicate with co-workers and maintain support for the union, which was initially high. “We just haven’t seen anyone during the two months of shutdown,” said one of the union-seeking workers, Colin Cochran. Union supporters were denied access to many of their colleagues’ phone numbers during this time.

The store has also added workers – from around 25 at the start of September to around 40 once voting began in January. “It was like every time we hired someone, two new people were hired,” Mr. Cochran said of the period after the store reopened in November. “It was like a hydra.”

Mr. Cochran and a second worker, Jenna Black, said the store kept worker hours fairly steady through the fall and most of the winter, even though the company was hiring more workers, but many employees saw their hours reduced as the vote progressed. end of February and that some were now considering leaving as a result.

“I was sticking to 10 p.m. and then for the last two weeks I’ve been down to 4, 6 p.m.,” Ms Black said. She added that while she loved her coworkers, “there’s no point in continuing to dedicate my time and make this work a priority when I can’t make a living from it.”

Mr Cochran said the scheme gave the impression that the store only wanted the extra workers as the vote approached, to dilute union support.

The union said workers in several states, including Oregon, Virginia, Ohio, New York, Texas and Colorado, also reported seeing their hours cut more than usual for the winter.

Michaela Sellaro, a shift supervisor at a Denver store that is seeking to unionize, said she had scheduled about 31 hours on average over the past four weeks after working an average of about 36 hours in the same weeks the last year. “It feels like they are threatening our job security,” Ms Sellaro said.

Mr Borges said hours had been higher than normal in the fall at Walden & Anderson to provide additional training, but hours there now reflected customer demand and so did at national scale. He cited the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as an additional factor in nationwide planning.

“We always plan what we think the store needs based on customer behaviors,” he said. “It may mean a change in the hours available, but to say we are reducing the hours would not be accurate.”

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