Starbucks Workers United breaks through with first-ever worker win at coffee chain


By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

– photo for the Washington Post by Libby March via Getty Images

Buffalo, N.Y. (PAI) — Starbucks Workers United broke a significant barrier on Dec. 9 with the first-ever worker win at the big retail coffee chain. Workers at the Elmwood store in Buffalo voted 19-8 to unionize with Starbucks Workers United, the National Labor Relations Board officer announced. The union also won 15-9 at a second store, but there are seven challenged ballots, and the NLRB will have to decide whether and how many of them to count.

The union lost 8-12 at a third Buffalo-area store, with two challenged ballots and two invalid votes. In one of many tactics management used to try to beat the union, the firm had abruptly closed two more stores that had the most pro-union staff and transferred people.

It also brought in co-founder Howard Schultz and other honchos to argue against the union. But when pro-union worker Gianna Reeve stood up at a captive audience meeting and asked Schultz to sign a set of fair election principles, “he ran away,” she said.

And it tried to stuff the ballot box by expanding the proposed bargaining unit from the 70 workers whom Starbucks Workers United wanted to include, to 100. It scrambled with last-minute improvements and a promised pay raise. And it hired Littler Mendelson, a notorious union-buster that advertises itself as the nation’s #1 corporate law firm. The tactics failed.

The Elmwood workers, gathered at their storefront union quarters in Buffalo, erupted in fist-waving cheers and hugs when the results came in.

“There’s been a very clear shift from ‘partners’ to profits. It’s been a churn and burn,” among the workforce, 11-year-worker Michelle Eisen, a leader among the workers, told a town hall for the workers several days ago, hosted by strongly pro-worker Sen. Bernie Sanders, (Ind.-Vt.). “Partners” is the Starbucks term for workers, like “associates” at Walmart. The town hall is posted at




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