Workers in three Starbucks stores in the Buffalo, New York, area voted to join Starbucks Workers United on Wednesday. The union has now secured representation at six total stores in Buffalo and Mesa, Arizona.
At the Sheridan Drive and North Bailey Avenue Starbucks in Amherst, employees voted 15 to 12 to join the union — two challenged ballots were not counted and about 15 eligible voters did not participate. In Cheektowaga, at the Walden Avenue and Anderson Road Starbucks, employees voted eight to seven to join the union, and about 24 eligible workers did not vote. In the third store, located at Transit Road and French Road in Depew, employees voted 15 to 12 to join the union, with two challenged ballots, and several eligible voters abstained.
The votes were cast between Jan. 31 and Feb. 22. But the count was delayed until March 9 following Starbucks' request that the National Labor Relations Board review the regional office’s decision to conduct the election at individual stores rather than at a regional level. The request was denied. A similar, and also unsuccessful, request delayed the vote count in Mesa, Arizona, last month.
These election outcomes show Starbucks' efforts to keep workers from unionizing are failing, according to labor experts. But there's still a long road ahead — Starbucks Workers United has filed for elections in at least 129 stores, according to NLRB records and public statements by the union.
Angel Krempa, a worker and union supporter at the Depew Starbucks store, said at a union press conference following the election that the three new Buffalo victories were significant.
"This is a momentous win," Krempa said. "We can't be silenced. And we're going to continue to be louder. We're going to continue to be prouder. And we're going to continue this fight and we're going to continue it for not only ourselves at Starbucks, but for every single working person in America."
Starbucks union supporters in the Buffalo area claim the company has begun reducing the hours employees work in recent weeks, in part to stem the drive's momentum.
Brian Murray, a union organizer in Buffalo at a Starbucks in one of the city’s suburbs, said his weekly schedule has been reduced from 20 hours to five hours. Workers who previously worked near to full-time are now scheduled for 15 or 25 hours a week, Murray said. Some have seen their hours cut by 75% and have taken on additional jobs to make up for their losses, he claims. Murray has taken a second job working for the New Democratic Party, a social democratic party, across the border in Canada to make ends meet.
"This is a tactic to push massive turnover nationwide to try to push out, you know, as union supporters and just longtime partners and workers at stores in general," Murray said.
But Starbucks claims these hourly reductions are occurring due to a decline in demand following the busy holiday season, Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said. Schedule reductions in late winter and early spring are made annually in response to this customer behavior, he said.
Borges also noted store managers have had to contend with schedule changes due to the COVID-19 omicron variant. Buffalo Starbucks stores closed their lobbies in January in response to the variant’s spread, reducing the number of workers needed to run the stores, he said.
Murray argues, however, that Starbucks managers have pushed to shorten shifts and avoid granting workers breaks. This allegation is corroborated by a recording of a conversation between pro-union employee Cassie Fleischer and her manager. Borges said he had no insight as to why managers schedule shifts of any given length.
The Cheektowaga store was also closed after its workers first filed for an election in August. The store then served as a training center for new partners for several weeks in the fall, according to Borges. The store's workers refiled for an election in November, NLRB records show.
Though these schedule changes are disruptive, Murray said one-on-one meetings between workers and management are Starbucks' key effort to erode union solidarity.
"[The meetings] are effective, given… everything going on because you're already scared and seeing workers retaliated against or fired, or your store closed. And then on top of that, you're having to sit down with a high-level manager or two or three and they're basically like implying a lot of things that could be taken away if you get the union," Murray said.
Starbucks has maintained that it has not fired employees on the basis of their union support.
Murray fears that Starbucks' anti-union strategy is working, citing that all Starbucks locations that have voted so far began with a majority of employees signing union cards when they petitioned. This indicates, he feels, that the company succeeded at quashing union support in stores where the union lost.
Starbucks' actions at these three Buffalo stores was no different from its behavior at other locations "in terms of making sure [Starbucks] partners feel informed," Borges said. He added that the outcomes in Buffalo don't change the company's anti-union stance.
John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said Starbucks' strategy has failed to stop the union, and may have actually accelerated its growth given the relative store-level autonomy workers have, which allows them to discuss the union at work.
"Starbucks appears determined to fight a war of attrition against unionization," Logan wrote in an email to Restaurant Dive. "[The Cheektowaga store] had the greatest turnover of workers, the greatest number of new hires, and the company temporarily closed it — and yet, even with all that disruption to the momentum of the organizing campaign, the union still won."