In a show of union strength, 21 Starbucks units opt on the same day to organize

Officials of Starbucks Workers United say the one-day record signals an acceleration of the union drive. Yet the assertion comes amid indications the movement may be losing momentum.
Never have so many Starbucks staffs decided to organize simultaneously, according to the union. | Photo: Shutterstock

The union aiming to organize Starbucks announced Tuesday that employees of 21 cafes had begun the unionization of their stores that morning, the most ever to seek representation on a single day. 

Starbucks Workers United, or SWU, cited the new record as evidence the drive to unionize the chain is accelerating. Yet it comes amid signs the movement may be losing some momentum. 

A majority of each unit's staff petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Tuesday morning to sanction formation of a local SWU branch, according to the union, an affiliate of Workers United. The parent group is in turn funded by Service Employees International Union, the nation’s second largest labor union.

Under new NLRB protocols, Starbucks now has a choice of either voluntarily recognizing the new union chapters or petitioning the NLRB itself with requests that unionizing be put to a staff vote in each store.

Never have so many Starbucks units simultaneously declared their intent to organize, according to the SWU. It indicated that the previous record was 14 stores.

The scale is proof that Starbucks has not squashed the drive to unionize the coffee giant, SWU asserted. Indeed, it contended, the volume of petitions shows the effort is intensifying.

The union has repeatedly accused Starbucks of employing illegal means to thwart the organizing effort. Starbucks has insisted that it has not and will not engage in union busting of any sort.

"While we believe our direct relationship as partners is core to our culture and our continued improvements to the partner experience, we respect the rights of partners to organize and reaffirm our aim to negotiate first contracts for represented stores this year," Starbucks said in a statement provided to Restaurant Business. 

Yet the chain has been directed 52 times to correct actions adjudged by federal regulatory officials to be unfair, with 73 complaints still pending before administrative law judges. Fifty-nine dismissed baristas have been reinstated in their jobs as a result of the complaints, the NLRB says.

According to the SWU, Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan was informed of the mass movement via a letter written and sent by the baristas who hope to unionize their stores. The 21 units employ 400 people in total, the labor group said.

The communication repeats organizers’ usual complaint that Starbucks workers are underpaid, under-scheduled and overworked.

“Partners are not merely your workers but human beings, who have the right to pursue happiness outside of our work,” it states.

"We know a core piece of a positive partner experience is consistent scheduling and predictable hours, and we’ve continued to work to build weekly schedules that reflect our partners’ preferred hours and support expected customer demand," Starbucks noted in its statement. It added that the hours worked per U.S. "partner," as the company calls its employees, have increased by 5% since fiscal 2020, while total hourly compensation has risen 50%. 

The letter to Narasimhan asks the CEO to voluntarily recognize the SWU as the collective bargaining representative for each of the 21 stores.

The addition of those stores would raise the tally of unionized Starbucks outlets to 407, from a standing start of zero in 2021. But the tally has been growing at a slower rate than it did early in the drive.

In addition, staff members from 18 unionized Starbucks units have petitioned the NLRB to schedule store-level votes on whether to retain representation by SWU. Eleven of those requests for what’s called a decertification election have been rejected by the NLRB because of Starbucks’ alleged anti-union activities, and five have been dismissed.

Seventy-three units of the coffee chain have voted in their stores' first elections to remain non-union shops.

Update: Statements from Starbucks have been added to the story. 

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