Just days before workers at three Starbucks stores in the Buffalo, New York area were to begin a union vote, workers and management took steps that reflect the high stakes, including an attempt by Starbucks from Seattle to Monday to postpone voting. elections.
None of the corporate Starbucks stores in the United States are unionized. Since workers at three businesses filed petitions to join the union in August, the company has recruited out-of-state officials, including North American retail managers and president, to address store problems in the area.
Last week, the union indicted the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the company of illegally “participating in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance, filing complaints and closing factories” during the election campaign.
Starbucks closed stores in the area Saturday afternoon to allow workers to attend a talk by Howard Schultz, the company’s largest individual shareholder and former CEO, at a local hotel.
Attendance at the meeting was voluntary, and Schultz did not explicitly mention the union campaign. But according to the transcript provided by Starbucks, he appears to have repeatedly referred to the unionization efforts.
“We’re not a perfect company,” Schultz told employees at the meeting, which included baristas, managers and company officials. “Mistakes are being made. We learn from them and try to fix them. ” He argued that the history of the company doing the right thing with its employees, including offering them health benefits and fairness, shows that the company takes their interests into account.
On a visit to the area in September to speak with managers, “I heard something I had never heard before about the state of some of the stores some of you worked in,” he said Saturday, without elaborating on the issue. “I promised the managers that it would all be fixed.”
Union-supporting workers cite chronic staff shortages, inadequate training and wage increases that are inadequate for seniority. Some say the pandemic made the problems worse, but long before it. In October, the company announced a new pay plan that included pay increases.
Unionists who seek to be part of Workers United, an affiliate of the giant International Service Workers Union, also say they want to make sure they have a voice in dealing with problems at work.
The National Labor Relations Board plans to start sending newsletters to workers in three stores on Wednesday; they should be returned by December 8th. According to an October ruling by a regional labor council official, three stores are slated for separate elections, which means a simple majority in either store will form a union.
But Starbucks appealed the ruling on Monday, arguing that the acting regional director of the board was mistaken in not calling instead a single election involving all stores in the Buffalo area. He asked the NLRB in Washington to reconsider and suspend the mailing of ballots until the board makes a decision. A single, broader choice usually favors the employer.
Some of the workers who attended Schultz’s speech were confused by the story he told about the Holocaust, in which he noted that only a small proportion of prisoners in German concentration camps received blankets, but often shared them with other prisoners.
“Much of this story has to do with what we tried to do at Starbucks – share our blanket,” Schultz said, according to the transcript.
“It didn’t seem like a good analogy to me,” Colin Cochran, a barista and unionist in Buffalo whose store is not in the top three scheduled for elections, told reporter in a text message.
After Schultz finished his speech, a union supporter stood up and called on Starbucks to support a set of “fair election principles,” which include allowing the union to present its case to workers during working hours.
Some in the audience cheered for the worker, while others cheered for the employee who criticized the union campaign, as a video provided by the company shows. Bloomberg previously reported on the meeting.
Unionists have complained about the presence of officials from other states.
Former labor council officials say the presence of officials, the closure of shops in the area, and a significant increase in staffing in shops applying for union elections could jeopardize the so-called laboratory conditions that are expected to prevail during the election campaign. advice to reverse the result if the union loses.
Starbucks said it does not believe any of its actions will require the election to be canceled and that company officials are helping to address operational issues such as understaffing and lack of training. The company said it often makes similar changes in other cities.
After workers began their union campaign, Starbucks closed several stores in the Buffalo area, turning one into a training center. Two stores reopened.
Sierra Hayes, who worked as a barista at Starbucks in the Buffalo area for the past three years while in college, said she found the presence of foreign officials helpful. Hayes cited a government-overseen renovation of her store, which she said made it more efficient.
In an interview organized by a Starbucks spokeswoman, Hayes said executives responded to employee suggestions during her time at the company and that she was worried that having a union might change that.
“I feel like adding a third person destroys a relationship that is going very well so far,” she said. “A lot of the great things we have at Starbucks, the benefits, were partner ideas.”
The union also accuses the company of seeking to weaken its support by transferring or hiring a significant number of additional workers in two of the three stores that will vote.
The shop near Buffalo Airport had about 20 employees eligible to vote when workers filed a petition in late August, according to the union. Shortly thereafter, the company announced that there were 27 eligible voters in the store; In a later list of voting rights that the company shared with the union, there were 46 workers.
Richard Bensinger, a former organizing director of the AFL-CIO that helps organize Starbucks employees for Workers United, said the increase was significant because union support was unanimous among workers that the union deemed eligible at the time of the election. innings.
“The company knew that with 100% support, they had to do something to seriously derail the campaign,” Bensinger said in an email.
Wilma Liebman, the former chairman of the NLRB, said the board could conclude that the company had illegally “filled” the store with voters if their hiring or transfer did not serve a legitimate business purpose and if the company had reason to believe they might oppose the union. Longtime store employees said the addition of workers led to overstaffing and crowding behind the bar.
Starbucks said its recent voter list included a number of employees from other stores who helped fill a staffing gap at the airport. It stated that these workers had the right to vote in accordance with the criteria of the labor council.