starbucks workers

SWEET TASTE OF VICTORY: Starbucks workers at the chain's Genesee St. location in Buffalo voted to join Workers United, becoming the second of its franchises to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board Jan. 10 determined that several ballots that were contested during an election held a month ago were ineligible, resulting in a 15-9 vote in favor of the union.

A Starbucks location at Genesee St. in Buffalo Jan. 10 became the coffee chain’s second store to unionize after the National Labor Relations Board disallowed seven votes that were contested during an election held a month earlier.

Employees at the Starbucks store located across from the Buffalo International Airport voted 15-to-9 in favor of joining Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The store is the second of Starbucks’ nearly 9,000 locations to unionize.

'An Emotional Day'

“Today we put an end to Starbucks’ delay attempts and formed our union at the Genesee Starbucks,” said Lexi Rizzo, a shift supervisor at the store. “This is an emotional day for all partners here who have fought so hard to make our voices heard in the work we do. Now we’re asking the same thing Elmwood is asking: we want a fair contract, and most importantly, we demand that Starbucks stop their union busting in Buffalo and across the nation immediately.”

Caroline Lerczak, a shift supervisor at Genesee St., called on Starbucks to come to the bargaining table. 

"After months of anti-union meetings, intimidation tactics, and intense pressure to vote 'no,' we can finally say we won our union,” she said.

A Starbucks spokesperson stated that “from the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us at Starbucks, and that conviction has not changed.”

Rossann Williams, Executive Vice President and President of Starbucks North America, previously said that the vote outcomes “will not change our shared purpose or how we will show up for each other.”

Why Votes Were Challenged

The mail ballots were counted Dec. 9–the same day the Starbucks location on Elmwood Ave. became the first to join a union. But the outcome of the Genesee St. election was delayed because of legal hurdles: six votes were contested by the union, which stated that the employees were temporarily assigned to the Genesee St. store while their home store at Niagara Falls Boulevard was being renovated. The remaining vote was challenged by Starbucks, which provided payroll records showing that the staffer was no longer an employee of the company. 

NLRB Regional Director Nancy Wilson determined that all seven employees were ineligible to vote in the election. 

A third election at a Buffalo Starbucks on Camp Rd. held the same day as the Elmwood and Genesee St. contests resulted in a 12-8 vote against unionizing. 

Following the victory at the Elmwood Ave. store, several other Starbucks locations around the country petitioned the NLRB about unionizing. Three other Starbucks locations in Buffalo are waiting for an election date, which the NLRB has not yet determined.

Excited by Movement

Michelle Eisen, a barista at the Elmwood store, said that she was “excited to be joined in bargaining by another store and that stores in other cities like Boston, Arizona, Knoxville, Seattle and Chicago are also moving forward.”

Staff at the Elmwood location went on strike Jan. 5 because of safety concerns related to the coronavirus. The employees, known as Starbucks Workers United, stated that a third of the staff were out because of COVID, leaving the store understaffed. Starbucks indicated that all of its Buffalo locations had switched exclusively to take-out orders because of the surge in COVID cases, and adjusted operating hours.

The staffers announced Jan. 10 on Twitter that they had returned to work.

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