Starbucks workers in Mesa, Arizona, vote for union

They won first in Buffalo. Now they have achieved a victory on the other side of the country.

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board announced that workers at Starbucks in Mesa, Arizona, voted 25 to 3 to join a union, with three votes against. This brings the number of company-owned stores with unions to three, from about 9,000 stores nationwide.

This victory was the first for the union since two stores voted to join a union in Buffalo in December, but it could mark the beginning of a larger trend. More than 100 Starbucks stores in more than 25 states have petitioned for union elections, most of them since that first victory. The next issue will likely come from three other Buffalo-area stores, where votes have already been cast. Starbucks workers in cities like Boston, Chicago and Seattle are set to vote or are likely to vote in the coming months.

“This is another historic moment for Starbucks partners and service industry workers across the country,” said Michael Hedock, the store’s rosary supervisor, in a statement. “This movement started in Buffalo, and we’ve now taken it across the country.”

Starbucks spokesman Reggie Burgess said in a statement that the company’s position had not changed. “As we have said all along, we will respect the process and will negotiate in good faith guided by principles“We hope the union will do the same,” he said.

Lawyers advising companies on labor relations said United Workers, a subsidiary of Service Employees International, appears to have significant momentum in organizing Starbucks workers.

“The workforce is clearly very sympathetic to what the union is selling,” said Brian West Easley, management-side attorney at Jones Day. “Right now, they probably rightly think they have the upper hand, given the number of petitions filed each week.”

The company has generally sought to challenge union shop by store, competing in the voting group for each election before the labor council and sending company officials to cities where workers have run for elections, in part to share its concerns about unions. Challenges delayed vote counting in Mesa and the second round of Buffalo Stores.

But Mr. Easley has argued that it will be difficult for Starbucks to maintain that approach if the company continues to suffer defeats, especially as more stores place orders for elections.

“The bigger it gets, the more pressures it puts on resources and they become ineffective,” he said. “The ability to respond is eroding as the numbers increase.”

At least one prominent Starbucks investor has echoed this concern, arguing that the company appears to be wasting money in its anti-union efforts. “The company devotes a significant amount of time and money to putting these arguments before the NLRB,” said Jonas Kron, chief advocacy officer at Trillium Asset Management, which invests in environmental, social and governance goals. About 43 million dollars in Starbucks at the end of last year. “I don’t feel that they are using investor resources – stakeholder resources – that well.”

Mr. Kron and Trillium have company urging To take a neutral stance towards the union. Other employment experts have indicated that she may eventually have to do so whether she wants to or not.

“I’m sure there will be a tipping point at some point,” said Amy Zdravici, a management side attorney at Barnes & Thornburg. “How many losses do you have before you change the strategy?”

Ms Zdravici added that the union’s ability to win an election in a country not usually sympathetic to organized labor indicated that the campaign was in place, and that one of the risks to Starbucks’ approach to opposing the union was that it could begin to alienate liberals from the company. Clean up the customer base.

“Wrestling unions may not align with where you want to be elsewhere,” she said.

Many of the issues workers in Mesa mentioned in their decision to support the union were similar to those identified by workers in Buffalo, such as Covid-19 employment and safety. Liz Elana, the store’s rosary supervisor, said customers sometimes waited 45 minutes last fall after placing a mobile order because there weren’t enough baristas to handle the volume. “The lobby will be full of people waiting,” said Mrs. Alana.

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Mesa’s campaign had an additional subplot that increased risks to workers. In early October, store manager, Brittany Harrison, was found to have leukemia. Ms Harrison said in an interview that the company initially appeared to be behind it, but later changed its position.

“I was calling the area manager and he would go to voicemail or ring forever and she wouldn’t call back,” she said. Ms Harrison and other workers such as Ms Alana said she had repeatedly asked for an assistant manager to help out in the store but nothing came close.

The situation came to a head on Friday, November 12, when Mrs. Harrison fell ill in the store, then was put on her two-week notice.

Workers in the store filed their petition for a union election the following week. “We had an easy time moving forward,” said Ms. Alana, citing frustration about the way the company handled Ms Harrison.

Mr. Burgess said the company had offered Mrs. Harrison support throughout her time there, and that she had offered to provide an assistant manager if she went on vacation, which she had not yet done.

Starbucks’ approach to union elections in Mesa is similar to its approach in Buffalo. The company has sent a variety of administrators to the store—including two new managers, at least two new assistant managers, a senior human resources officer based in Colorado, a senior business manager in California and a regional vice president in Colorado.

Workers said they felt managers and other officials were partly there to monitor them. Ms Hejduk said the new managers appeared to have a policy in which at least one manager in the store must be at all times “babysitting”, as she put it.

Ms. Hajduk said she was told one recent week morning that the store was closing and that her shift had been canceled because there was no manager available to attend, even though she had a key and had often worked in the store without a manager before. Deposit the union elections. She said the policy was relaxed after the union vote ended.

In Mesa, as in at least one of its Buffalo stores, Starbucks also brought in several new post-election workers, who typically spent a few weeks training in other stores. The union argued that off-site training was intended to ensure that workers could start their work without any contact with union supporters and that workers were brought in to ease union support. The union, which argues that some new workers have not worked in the store long enough to be eligible to vote, won a challenge on Similar reasons in Buffalo.

Mr. Burgess said officials were addressing operational issues such as hiring, soliciting input from workers and educating them about the risks of joining unions, though he said Starbucks respects its employees’ rights to form unions. He said that having a separate site focused on mentoring new employees allowed the company to train them more efficiently, and that all workers who received ballots were eligible under the NLRB rules. He said it was sometimes a policy to have one manager at all times when there was new leadership in the store.

The count in Mesa and in the three additional stores in the Buffalo area has been postponed due to management challenges over a key legal issue: the proper voting group for a union election.

In rejection of Starbucks, the Labor Relations Board ruling Wednesday Stores can vote individually, rather than having to cast their votes with other stores in a geographic area. The detailed board decision makes it difficult for Starbucks to find its way to solve this problem elsewhere.

Unions usually prefer voting on a smaller scale to reduce the number of votes needed to secure a majority in at least some locations, but Starbucks argued That stores in the same market are like a single unit because employees can work in multiple locations and because area managers oversee them as a cohesive group.

Jones Day’s Mr. Easley said one option for Starbucks in light of its recent defeats is to surrender to a union presence and position the company to reduce the union’s influence. He suggested, for example, that Starbucks might focus its opposition on cities that the union had already won, to make sure there weren’t many union stores that would provide it with more influence.

“The next stage in this could be divide and conquer,” he said. “Make sure they don’t end up with voting blocks that could shut down business in the market.”

Referring to the union, he added, “If they can control the market in a particular location, they have leverage to get Starbucks to do something.”

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