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Buffalo Starbucks employees want to be the first to unionize in US

Starbucks has more than 8,000 locations in the US
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Posted at 10:59 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 23:19:20-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Starbucks has more than 8,000 locations in the U.S., and none of their workers are unionized. Starbucks workers in Buffalo are trying to become the first.

“We want our seat at the table even if we have to pull up our own chairs,” Katie Cook, Starbucks employee in Buffalo said. “We’re coming to sit down.”

The group is known as “Starbucks Workers United," and it consists of 50 different employees from 14 Buffalo-area locations.

“The momentum behind our campaign is only getting stronger and we are only getting louder,” Cook said.

Labor attorney and Partner at Phillips Lytle, James Grasso, said it’s not a coincidence this push for unionization comes during a pandemic when baristas cannot work from home.

“If Starbucks workers here in Buffalo unionize, that will send a shock wave across the country,” Grasso said. “They have been on the frontlines. And, with the labor shortage, they have been required to work extra hours."

The group sent a letter to the CEO of Starbucks last week asking him to sign Fair Election Principles.

“Starbucks is great, but there is no reason they can’t be the leader in the industry in terms of setting worker conditions and benefits the highest,” Jaz Brisack, a Starbucks employee, said.

"The letter back said they do respect our right to unionize and organize, but they say their benefits outweigh any benefits a union would have,” Cook said.

The group is now petitioning for union elections at different Starbucks locations and will be going towards votes in the coming days.

“Assuming we win, we will be sitting down with Starbucks management at the negotiating table,” Brisack said.

I spoke on the phone to the Corporate Communications Senior Manager at Starbucks, Jory Mendes, and he said “we firmly believe that our work environment, coupled with our competitive compensation and benefits, makes unions unnecessary at Starbucks.”

Starbucks calls its employees, “partners.”

"We proudly create the space and open forums for open and honest conversation as it relates to establishing and maintaining a great work environment," Mendes said. "We will continue to empower our partners to constructively use their voice, and our local leaders to listen to and address directly the concerns of our partners.

“They should live up to it! And give us the true partnership that signing the Fair Election Principles would provide,” Brisack said.

Buffalo is a city known for manufacturing unionization.

"Steel industry, auto industry. All of those were unionized,” Grasso said. “The auto industry is still unionized. We have a strong history of unions in our area."