Push to unionize Starbucks spreads to Arizona

A handful of employees at a unit in the city of Mesa say they intend to organize. The game plan follows what worked for union advocates in Buffalo, N.Y.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The effort to unionize Starbucks cafes has jumped from Buffalo, N.Y., to Mesa, Ariz., where six employees of a single store have alerted chain CEO Kevin Johnson that they have begun the organizing process.

The group is backed by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the nation’s largest unions and the biggest group representing hospitality workers.

The effort follows the same pattern of the organization effort in Buffalo, where employees of three units are currently voting on whether to unionize their respective stores. The balloting concludes Dec. 8. Meanwhile, workers at three more stores are awaiting federal regulators’ response to their request for scheduling votes in their cafes.

In Mesa, a group of unit-level employees sent a letter Thursday to Johnson, notifying him of their plans to petition for a union vote. Like their counterparts in New York, the Mesa advocates say they want a say in the brand’s strategic planning.

“We are organizing a union because we feel that this is the best way to contribute meaningfully to our partnership with the company,” the letter states. It goes on to say that the employees want “equal power to affect (sic) change and get things done.”

In the early stages of their organizing effort, baristas in Buffalo emphasized that they had no specific gripes with Starbucks’ management and just wanted a say in corporate activities. The Mesa workers, in contrast, say they are motivated in part by what they allege was the dismissal of a whistleblower.

They assert that a manager of the Mesa store, identified as Brittany, passed along a recount to pro-union colleagues in Buffalo of what a district manager had said at a meeting in Arizona.

The message allegedly commented that Starbucks’ corporate office was dispatching its corporate heavyweights to Buffalo to tip the union voting in corporate’s favor. Indeed, the market was visited by the likes of Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks’ North American corporate operations, and Howard Schultz, the former CEO and chairman who built the brand into a powerhouse.

According to the Mesa organizers, Brittany passed along the information to support her Buffalo colleagues’ contention that Starbucks was trying to bust the union, an accusation leveled in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board. They say corporate personnel learned of Brittany’s relay of information and subsequently fired her.

Starbucks had not responded to a request for comment by the time this article was posted.

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