Ahead of the historic unionization vote being tallied next Thursday to determine whether three stores in Buffalo, N.Y. will be represented by a union, Starbucks and Starbucks Workers United faced off in another hearing with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday.
The purpose of Thursday’s hearing was to determine the fate of another set of three stores in the Buffalo, N.Y. area looking to unionize, and whether it is appropriate to count a single store as an appropriate bargaining unit. Starbucks has made the argument in a previous hearing earlier this year about the original group of workers looking to unionize that all regional stores should be required to vote as a unit. These stores addressed in Thursday’s hearing are not included in the vote next week.
“In 2021, 45.5% of baristas and shift supervisors in Buffalo worked in more than one store,” Starbucks’ legal representation said in its opening argument during Thursday’s hearing. “The union petitioning for those stores was part of its overall plan to organize the entire market. We urged them not to have individual elections. […] Starbucks is prepared to move forward with evidence that these three stores are merged and cannot be deemed single-location units. […] All partners deserve to be heard on this important issue.”
Last month, Starbucks asked the National Labor Relations Board for a review on the vote processes happening next week for similar reasons, asking that all regional workers be able to vote on the unionization attempt, and appealing the decision to allow mail-in ballots rather than traditional in-person voting.
“The company has spun this as ‘we want the whole district to vote,’ but they do not,” Richard Bensinger, a labor organizer who is advising unionization efforts for Starbucks told Nation’s Restaurant News. “They want no one to vote. There is no petition filed by a union to vote for the entire district. If the company had won this case there would not have been a district-wide vote, rather there would be no vote.”
Bensinger claims that this latest hearing is just another tactic on the part of Starbucks to delay the vote. The coffee chain corporation has previously been accused of union-busting tactics during this process. For example, according to Bensinger, one of the Buffalo-area stores being discussed in Thursday’s hearing closed indefinitely in early September, which he claims is an example of voter suppression tactics. The store is rescheduled to open soon. Starbucks declined to comment on Thursday’s hearing.
These Buffalo stores are being joined by a Starbucks location in Arizona that is also attempting to unionize with SBWorkers United. On Nov. 18, employees at a Mesa, Ariz. location applied for a union ballot vote with the National Labor Relations Board and wrote a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson informing him of their decision.
“We are aware of the anti-union campaign that you and Rossann, plus other managers are waging in Buffalo,” the letter reads. “We are not intimidated but we are outraged […] We see unions as the best way to make Starbucks a sustainable place to have a career and a true partnership.”
That last sentence appears to be a direct response to Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks North America, who published a statement in October against unionization, stating that employees will benefit more from a more “direct partnership” with their parent company.
If the National Labor Relations Board denies Starbucks its request for a review of the case, then ballots will be counted on Dec. 9, but if the board grants Starbucks the review, votes will be impounded until that review is granted. If no decision is made before next week, ballots will be impounded until the board decides one way or another.
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