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What's next for the Starbucks union?

Starbucks on Elmwood Ave. in Buffalo becomes first location in United States represented by union.
Posted at 6:08 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 18:08:51-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The efforts of the Starbucks Workers United - finally coming to a head as the Elmwood Ave. Starbucks voted 18-9 to unionize on December 9th.

"It feels surreal. I honestly still haven't processed it all, it's still sinking in," said Cassie Fleischer, a barista at the Elmwood location.

Two other stores - on Genessee St. in Cheektowaga and Camp Road in Hamburg also were up for votes.

The Genessee St. location has voted 15-9 to unionize, but has 7 challenged votes. The Union has declared victory anyway - but results have not been confirmed. The Hamburg location voted "no" to unionizing.

"We're fighting for better pay, better staffing, better hours, and good working conditions," said Fleischer.

7 Eyewitness News went in-depth to find out what the Starbucks Workers United Union's next steps are - now that they have voted to unionize.

"They don't have the power anymore. Starbucks has no legal obligation to go to the bargaining table. They don't have to negotiate whatsoever," said Professor Arthur Wheaton, the Director of Labor Studies at Cornell University.

There are no labor laws requiring corporations such as Starbucks, to negotiate with unions. Wheaton believes that the company could use tactics to try and break up the union - and to limit its possible spread.

"Very often this can takes years. Anti-union corporations use this to their advantage. Often times they will intentionally wait - until people are tired and get voted out," said Wheaton.

There are three more stores set to vote in the future to unionize here in Western New York, along with another store in Mesa, Arizona.

The corporation has not responded to since the news of the vote broke on December 9th, except for a public letter to all employees via their website:


What I’ve learned and love so deeply about us is that we are built on human connection. Our strength comes from our relationships and how we show up for each other. Partners listen and hear each other, bear witness to what’s happening in each others’ lives, support each other, celebrate successes, figure out challenges together, and discuss ideas that make us all better. It’s incredibly special. Everything we do best and love most about Starbucks is thanks to partners working together and supporting one another. I want to thank you for everything you do each and every day to bring the very best of Starbucks to life. I am proud to be on this journey together.

For the last three months in Buffalo, we’ve been working hard on creating the very best Starbucks partner experience. And we’ve been learning a lot about unions and hearing talk of “corporate versus partners.” What I know is that we are all partners and we, all of us, ARE Starbucks. Every day I work alongside the most incredibly talented partners. We will keep listening, we will keep connecting and we will keep being in service of one another because that’s what we’ve always done and what it means to be partner.

Partners in three Buffalo stores voted on union representation and the ballots were counted today. We had a split vote: one store voted to keep working directly together, one store voted to be represented by a union, and the third store doesn’t have a final result because some unopened “challenged” ballots can determine the tally. It may be some time before we know if or when those ballots can be opened and counted. So what happens from here? Put simply, we continue on as we did today, yesterday and the day before that. These are preliminary results with no immediate changes to our partner relationship as the NLRB process continues. Most important, the vote outcomes will not change our shared purpose or how we will show up for each other. We want to protect partner flexibility, transferability and benefits across all stores in a market or a district because we know that’s important to partners. This is why we strongly believe that every partner in a district or market should have the opportunity to vote on such an important decision. Starbucks is one of the most respected and admired companies in the world, built by partners in service of partners, customers and neighborhoods all across the country. I am so proud to be your partner and to continue moving forward stronger, together.

We want every partner to love working at Starbucks. We will keep finding new and better ways to continue leading on wages and benefits, improve our listening and active partnership, and keep building a company that matters. Because we are partners.

Rossann Williams
Executive Vice President, President North America

The letter was found here. It has since been removed from the Starbucks website.