Seattle Starbucks unionizes in coffee giant’s home city

Mar 22, 2022, 3:03 PM | Updated: 3:27 pm

SEATTLE (AP) — Baristas and other employees at a Seattle Starbucks have voted to unionize, the first such vote in the city where Starbucks originated and the latest in a nationwide push to organize the coffee shop chain.

The unanimous vote announced Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board is also an especially symbolic win as Howard Schultz returns as interim chief executive officer, The Seattle Times reported.

The store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood will become the seventh in the country where employees have voted in favor of unionizing with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. At least 140 more stores in 27 states have filed petitions for union elections.

Starbucks announced March 16 that CEO Kevin Johnson was retiring. The company picked former longtime CEO Schultz as interim leader until it finds a permanent replacement by this fall. In his previous time with the company, the 68-year-old Schultz successfully fought attempts to unionize Starbucks’ U.S. stores and roasting plants.

In a November letter to employees, posted just before the first unionization votes at three stores in Buffalo, New York, Schultz said he tried to create the kind of company that his blue-collar father never had the chance to work for.

He recalled the “traumatic moment” his family had no income after his father suffered a workplace injury, and said that’s why Starbucks has benefits like health care, free college tuition, parental leave and stock grants for employees.

Starbucks has had to reinstate fired workers or pay to settle labor law violations numerous times in the early 2000s.

Last year, the national labor board found that Starbucks unlawfully retaliated against two Philadelphia baristas who were trying to unionize. The board said Starbucks monitored the employees’ social media, unlawfully spied on their conversations and then fired them. It ordered Starbucks to stop interfering with workers’ right to organize and offer reinstatement to the two workers.

Last week, the board issued a complaint against Starbucks alleging that district and store managers in Phoenix spied on and threatened workers who supported unionizing. The complaint says Starbucks suspended one union supporter and fired another.

Sydney Durkin, who works at the Seattle store, told the newspaper that in the past these may have been jobs people only stayed in for a few years, but increasingly they are becoming people’s livelihood.

“This is a signal for the larger food industry that it is changing and it is building toward something hopefully more sustainable,” Durkin said.

“We will respect the process and will bargain in good faith … We hope that the union does the same,” a Starbucks company spokesperson said in a statement.

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Seattle Starbucks unionizes in coffee giant’s home city