Starbucks Barista Gianna Reeve, part of the Organizing Committee of Buffalo, New York, speaks in support of Seattle workers Starbucks locations announcing plans to organize during a meeting at Cal Anderson Park in Seattle, Washington on January 25, 2022 .
Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images
Starbucks baristas at a location in Seattle voted unanimously Tuesday to get connected, for the first time in the company’s hometown.
The Seattle location on Broadway and Denny Way joins six other company-owned Starbucks cafes in Buffalo, New York and Mesa, Arizona, to decide to form a union under Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Only one place, in the Buffalo area, has voted against union, giving Starbucks Workers United a 88% winning rate.
The growing union promotion is among the challenges that future interim CEO Howard Schultz will face when he returns to the helm of the company he helped grow into a global coffee giant. From April 4, Schultz will take over so that outgoing CEO Kevin Johnson can retire and the board can look for a long-term replacement.
Under Schultz’s leadership, Starbucks gained a reputation as a generous and progressive employer, a position now in jeopardy as the union picks up speed and workers share their complaints.
Nine workers at Broadway and the Denny Way location voted to join the union, with no votes against. A ballot paper was challenged and was therefore not counted. Six other Seattle Starbucks locations have filed for union election, including the company’s flagship Reserve Roastery, a flashy cafe designed to compete with more upscale coffee shops.
The initial Buffalo victories for the union have led to nationwide organizing. More than 150 company-owned Starbucks cafes have applied to the National Labor Relations Board for union elections, all within the last six months.
Yet only a small fraction of the company’s total footprint has been swept up in the union’s push. Starbucks operates nearly 9,000 locations in the United States
The regional director of the National Labor Relations Board must now certify the Seattle votes, a process that can take up to a week. Then the union faces its next challenge: negotiating a contract with Starbucks. Labor law does not require the employer and union to enter into a collective agreement, and contract discussions can drag on for years.
At Starbucks’ annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday, chairman Mellody Hobson said the company understands and recognizes its workers’ right to organize.
“We are also negotiating in good faith and we want a constructive relationship with the union,” she said.
She said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” earlier that day that Starbucks “made some mistakes” when asked about the union’s push.
“When you think again about why we’re leaning on Howard at this moment, it’s that connection with our people where we think he’s uniquely capable of engaging with our people in a way that will make a difference, “she said.
Schultz appeared in Buffalo ahead of the union election there to try to dissuade workers from voting to become unions, a move that may have signaled his return to the company and his approach to organizing the push.