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Starbucks union surpasses 200-store milestone

Plus, SBWorkers United demands reinstatement of more fired union organizers, and the first Korean barbecue restaurant unionizes

The buzz around the Starbucks unionization has reached a fever pitch, from store union milestones to continued tensions between unions and corporate. Here are the latest updates from the Starbucks unionization battleground that has inspired a wave of foodservice and retail labor movements across the country.

SBWorkers United passes 200-store milestone – On July 22, the 200th Starbucks store unionized. The 200th milestone store is located in Cleveland and voted 11-9 to organize, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Approximately 80% of the total 249 stores to vote have voted “yes” to unionizing, with only 39 voting no and 11 of the results have been challenged either by the union or Starbucks.

As of July 26, the company surpassed this milestone with the 201st store voting yes to unionize in Farmingville on Long Island in New York. Starbucks reached this milestone in under eight months, as the company’s first store voted to unionize in Buffalo, N.Y. last December.

More Starbucks union organizers are fired ahead of elections According to the Scottsboro, Alabama SBWorkers United Twitter account, two workers were fired just two days before a store’s vote on whether to unionize.

“These partners were key organizers in the fight for a union with Starbucks Workers United,” a Go Fund Me fundraiser for the terminated workers reads. “Retaliation against partners includes cuts to hours, changes to schedule, and even in some cases termination.”

Nation’s Restaurant News has reached out to Starbucks for comment on these specific terminations. According to SBWorkers United, 50 confirmed union leaders have been unfairly terminated during key points of the unionization process, which the union has labeled an example of union busting. Of these, 23 of the terminations have been filed as complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

Starbucks has defended its decision to terminate many of these people, claiming for example, that fired workers in Memphis broke store safety policies.  

“Besides firings, Starbucks is also trying to make life in the stores increasingly difficult for workers,” a representative with SBWorkers United told Nation’s Restaurant News. “Store hours are being changed to require workers to come in as early as 4:00 AM, union supporters are being targeted for bullying, intimidation, and threats, and Starbucks is clearly retaliating against unionized stores by closing them down in some cases.”

Starbucks denies that the latest terminations in Alabama have anything to do with the former employees' union leadership:

"Partners Garrett Ellison and James Ritter are no longer with Starbucks for policy violations and demonstrating behavior that has a negative impact on the partner experience and is inconsistent with our mission and values," a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement. "A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held."

Labor violation complaints to the NLRB grow  

In June, there were more than 200 labor complaints against Starbucks filed by the National Labor Relations Board and SBWorkers United, on grounds of illegal terminations, disciplinary actions against pro-union employees, and other forms of alleged union busting. In June, Starbucks notched a legal win in court, after a judge ruled that Starbucks does not have to reinstate three employees in Phoenix.

Currently, there are 252 open labor violations cases open against Starbucks across 26 states. Of these, 4 of the cases have already started their hearings (covering labor violations in Hialeah, Fla., Kansas City, Mo., Buffalo, N.Y. and Phoenix, Ariz.).

SBWorkers United starts fund for Starbucks workers

SBWorkers United and The Solidarity Fund by Coworker started a mutual aid tool to help raise money for Starbucks worker activists — whether they have been terminated or still work for the company — by contributing money for rent, health insurance and union-related events.

There is also currently a GoFundMe fundraiser in place for the terminated workers in Scottsboro, Ala., which has thus far received nearly half of its $3,000 goal.

First Korean Barbecue restaurant in the country unionizes

The Starbucks unionization movement has inspired other retail and hospitality labor movements, including Chipotle. The latest unionization news comes from the independent side of the industry. Genwa Korean BBQ in Los Angeles became the first Korean barbecue restaurant in the United States to unionize last month, and fortified their first union contract after dealing with what they call multiple labor violations.

The three-year union contract includes a raise for kitchen staff, seniority rights, sexual harassment training, a retirement plan, a tip-distribution system, a conflict resolution process, healthcare reimbursement, and rehiring workers that were laid off during the pandemic, according to NBC News.

“Restaurants become a revolving door for servers and bartenders and cooks because there’s no job security,” José Roberto Hernández, president of Genwa’s union and director of organizing for Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, told NBC Asian America. “We hope the unity between migrant communities, between Asians and Latinos, can bring us to a better future for the workers who are sustaining this industry.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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