Starbucks has around 235,000 employees across 9,000 stores in the U.S. None of them had been unionized until Thursday, December 9, when one store in Buffalo voted to become part of Workers United, an independent affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The vote passed 19-8, CNN reports. Two other Buffalo locations held a vote as well. One location voted 12-8 in opposition of the union, and the third location is still in the voting process.
One store might not seem like a big deal, but Starbucks employees have been rallying around unionizing for months now, and the corporation has been trying to dissuade the efforts in Buffalo. In fact, Starbucks sent top executives to Buffalo, including former CEO, Howard Schultz, to keep this from happening.
But now, other shops are filing to start the process of holding votes, including three other Buffalo stores, along with one in Mesa, Arizona. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more and more Starbucks location joining employee unions in the coming year.
“This is a historic moment in time,” said Michelle Eisen, to CNN, who is a barista with 11 years of experience at the newly unionized Starbucks in Buffalo. “This win is the first step in changing what it means to be a partner at Starbucks, and what it means to work in the service industry more broadly. With a union, we now have the ability to negotiate a contract that holds Starbucks accountable to be the company we know it can be, and gives us a real voice in our workplace.”
It appears as if Starbucks is worried about what might happen in the future in regards to employee unions. A recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) shows Starbucks noting, in a section about risk concerns, “if a significant portion of our employees were to become unionized, our labor costs could increase and our business could be negatively affected by other requirements and expectations that could increase our costs, change our employee culture, decrease our flexibility and disrupt our business.”
In the same filing, the company notes additional concern with how its reputation could be damaged if they do manage to defeat unionizing attempts. “Our responses to any union organizing efforts could negatively impact how our brand is perceived and have adverse effects on our business, including on our financial results.”
Though the Buffalo store may now be unionized, there’s no guarantee efforts will be fruitful right off the bat. No portion of the law exists that can force a company to reach a labor deal with a newly minted union, so it’ll take some effort from customers and public officials to get Starbucks to the negotiating table.
Lexi Rizzo is another employee of the unionized Starbucks location. She said to CNN, “It’s probably not a fair assumption that they want to come and bargain with us, but I hope they will.”