Employees of newly unionized coffee concept want a revote

Staff at two Good Karma Cafes will vote in two weeks on whether to leave Workers United. Meanwhile, 15 unionized Starbucks stores are awaiting word on their request for a decertification vote.
The NLRB gave a go-ahead for another vote. | Photo: Shutterstock

The group behind the unionization of 340 Starbucks units and several small coffee chains has lost enough favor among the employees of one newly organized operation to face a possible ouster within a few weeks.

The staffs of two Good Karma Cafes in Philadelphia have been given a go-ahead by federal regulators to hold what’s known as a decertification vote—essentially a yes/no ballot on whether to retain Workers United as their representative in dealings with management.

A vote to end the two-year relationship would be a significant defeat for Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU. An affiliate, Starbucks Workers United, has been focused on the giant coffee chain.

No other operation organized by Workers United since it first targeted coffee chains in August 2021 is believed to have won a go-ahead for a decertification vote.

It’s not been for lack of trying. Employees of 15 newly organized Starbucks units have similarly asked the National Labor Relations Board to schedule a decertification election. The agency has yet to grant any of those requests.

Typically the NLRB does not act on petitions for a decertification vote for at least a year after the staff of a business opts to unionize. Some of the Starbucks units seeking a re-vote have been union shops for far longer than 12 months.

But the NLRB has the discretion to extend that hold-off period, says Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a group that advocates against all employees of a business being forced to join a union when a majority vote to do so. The Foundation is providing legal assistance to employees of the two Good Karma restaurants.

The workers, like their Starbucks counterparts seeking decertification, may not have been employees when their stores voted to unionize. “The people who were agitating for the union, they all left,” Mix said, noting that high turnover is hardly unusual for restaurants. “It’s a pretty sizable group.”

“We soon found ourselves very short-staffed,” Mario Camponeschi, a Good Karma employee who led the decertification petition drive, said in a statement. “Workers United union officials have been bad for the stability of Good Karma and have not stood up for the interests of me and my coworkers.”

In addition, according to Mix, employees are aggravated by the union’s use of “salts,” or ringers who apply for a job at a restaurant specifically to sell their co-workers on unionizing. The identity of the salts often doesn’t emerge until after a vote is held, if it comes to light at all. Typically the union agents move on to their next target, after casting their ballots for a union and lobbying their colleagues to do likewise.

Mix cites the example of an employee at one of the first Starbucks units to organize. The individual, whom he didn’t identify, led the drive to petition the NLRB for a union vote. But she wasn’t forthcoming about simultaneously drawing a $50,000-a-year salary from Workers United for her promotional efforts, while simultaneously working as a barista, Mix said.

Nor did she reveal that role in testifying before Congress about the increasingly tense interactions between Starbucks’ management and its newly unionized stores.

All told, the SEIU reportedly spent $2.5 million on salts in its early agitating for a Starbucks union.

“While we’re glad the NLRB plans to hold an election for Good Karma employees, it should be noted that NLRB officials across the country are blocking Starbucks employees from exercising that same right at the behest of Workers United union officials,” Mix said in an announcement of the Philadelphia cafes’ decertification vote. “Workers should be in charge of their own right to vote out unwanted unions, and the NLRB should not stifle that right according to union officials’ whims.”

“I’m sure that a majority of my coworkers will vote to move forward without their presence,” Camponeschi said, referring to Workers United.

Good Karma was one of many small coffee chains whose employees opted to unionize as Workers United drew publicity for its drive to organize Starbucks.

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