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Building the Collective: Another FL Starbucks Seeks to Unionize

April 28, 2023

On April 27, 2023, employees of the Starbucks at N. Wickham Rd. in Melbourne, FL, filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) a petition to unionize.

As noted in the NLRB search result for case 12-RC-316922, the filers are seeking representation for “All full-time and regular part-time Baristas and Shift Supervisors.” The filing reports 21 employees.

According to the March 29, 2023, PBS News Hour, the Seattle-based Starbucks Corporation has found itself in the news for “alleged anti-union practices” as former CEO Howard Schultz testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. (Schultz stepped down as CEO two weeks sooner than anticipated, just prior to his Senate appearance.) From PBS:

In recent months, multiple federal judges have ruled that Starbucks illegally fired workers in both Buffalo, New York, and Memphis, Tennessee. NLRB Administrative Law Judge Michael Rosas cited Starbucks’ “egregious and widespread misconduct” in his March 2 ruling, which consolidated 35 unfair labor practice complaints against the company. …

The National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency aimed at protecting workers’ rights, has issued more than 80 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor law.

According to the NLRB’s website, “Supervisors and managers cannot spy on you (or make it appear that they are doing so), coercively question you, threaten you or bribe you regarding your union activity or the union activities of your co-workers. You can’t be fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way for engaging in these activities.”

Yet companies, including Starbucks, have been found to violate these rights…. …

One of the most high-profile Starbucks violations has been the firing of seven employees at a store in Memphis, Tennessee after the workers began a campaign to unionize in early 2022.

As for the Tennessee firings, according to August 18, 2022, NPR reporting, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled in favor of the fired workers, finding that the Starbucks Corporation fired the workers months earlier in retaliation for the unionization efforts. The judge ordered coffee giant must reinstate these employees. In June 2022, the Memphis Starbucks at Poplar and Highland voted to unionize, joining “more than 100 others across the US” at the time. By August 2022, the number increased to “more than 200 stores.”

As of this writing, Starbucks Workers United reports that it has “300+” unionized stores.

The first Starbucks to unionize is located in Buffalo. It did so in December 2021.

In Florida, the first Starbucks to unionize is located in Tallahassee; the N. Monroe St. location voted to unionize on May 03, 2022. On Labor Day 2022, the store went on strike in support of the August 2022 NLRB complaint against the corporation for withholding wages from unionized stores.

The NLRB also filed an unfair practices complaint against Starbucks for union-busting activity as the Highland Oaks Dr., Estero, FL, store was engaging in unionizing. As the January 2023 Huffpost reports, the complaint asks that Starbucks Corporation be required to negotiate with the Estero, FL, store as if the store were unionized.

According to the complaint, management (name redacted) repeatedly pressed employees for their positions on unionizing; forced employees to attend meetings to hear why management was against unionizing, and “threatened employees with loss of work opportunities, loss of benefits, and loss of the right to transfer to other stores if they selected the Union as their collective bargaining representative.”

Big surprise that the initial vote to unionize failed by a 2-to-1 margin in May 2022.

The NLRB argues that any subsequent vote would be tainted by the hostile environment already cultivated by anti-union, management actions.

A hearing was set for April 18, 2023; as of this writing, the NLRB still considers the case (12-CA-295949) to be “open.”

On March 22, 2023, the day before the annual Starbucks shareholders meeting, Starbucks Workers United coordinated a nationwide strike, the timing of which also captured the momentum of Schultz’s appearing before Congress for Starbucks’ brazen and prolific union-busting efforts.

Regarding the Oviedo, Fl, Starbucks’ participation in the March 22, 2023, strike, the Orlando Weekly identifies the great struggle (and goal) of all of this unionizing:

Negotiating a union contract with corporate:

Since December 2021, coffee shop baristas and shift supervisors at nearly 300 of approximately 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations across the U.S. have voted to unionize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

But none have managed to secure a union contract, which could stipulate agreements on things such as wages, scheduling, and other job benefits and working conditions.

The nationwide strike also included a protest at Starbucks national headquarters in Seattle, WA. From the March 24, 2023, Washington Post:

Scores of union Starbucks baristas from across the Pacific Northwest descended on a hotel in Seattle on Wednesday to unveil to Starbucks lawyers a set of proposals that they had been researching and debating for more than six months.

A $20 an hour starting wage nationwide. A 32-hour week guarantee for full-time employees. A 100 percent employer-covered health-care plan for full- and part-time workers. Credit card tipping at all stores.

The session lasted close to four hours — much longer than any of the roughly 90 previous bargaining sessions held since last October — though workers did not get a chance to share all of their demands with management before Starbucks’ lawyers packed up to leave.

The demands from Starbucks Workers United come at a moment of heightened attention to working conditions at the coffee mega-chain. … Workers at about 100 stores in 40 cities nationwide went on strike on Wednesday to make a point to the company’s new chief executive, Laxman Narasimhan, who started this week. Founder Howard Schultz stepped down as leader of the company on Monday, two weeks earlier than expected, though he still plans to testify before Congress next week about its labor practices.

And so, here we are, full-circle for the moment. Schultz– who resigned ahead of schedule– did testify before Congress, and it was a bad look for both the corporate billionaire and the company. Even though Schultz argued that Starbucks’ “preference” is “direct relationship” with employees, “who we call partners,” NPR notes that “Federal labor officials have issued scores of complaints against the coffee giant. … One [ruing] said Starbucks engaged in “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees.”

As for “general disregard for the employees,” cut to Oviedo, FL:

Last June, their store was the first (and only) Starbucks location in Central Florida to unionize. …

In Oviedo, several workers told Orlando Weekly that their hours have been cut, and that they’re still exempted from Starbucks’ fairly recent credit card tipping option that’s been afforded exclusively to non-union locations in the U.S. (Starbucks claims this is a job benefit that must be negotiated with unionized stores).

That’s a cut of $200 to $400 from a worker’s paycheck, according to Celio Sibayan, a 22-year-old barista at the Oviedo location….

Base pay for baristas at his store is $15 per hour, he said. Shift supervisors can make $19 or $20.

A living wage for a single working adult with no dependents in Seminole County, where Oviedo’s located, is $18.85 — and that’s assuming you’re paying just around $1,182 a month for housing. Average rent for a 913-square-foot apartment in Seminole County is $1,714, according to RentCafe.

Courtney Thompson, another worker at the Oviedo location, said that cuts to workers’ hours is also a major issue that’s recently gotten worse….

“Before, we were allowed to pick up shifts but now we’re being denied. Like some people are getting sent home,” she said. …

They’ve asked for more staff on a shift, but to no avail, said Thompson. …

On Wednesday morning, just three people were inside the store, including the store manager, according to Clay Blastic, a shift supervisor and union leader. Usually there’s five to six, or up to nine during peak hours.

Even more understaffed than usual, the store was forced to shutter at 12:30 p.m., said Blastic. According to Google, they’re usually open until 9 p.m.

Now cut back to the Senate hearing with former CEO worth $3.7B:

On Wednesday (04-29-23), noting that the first group of Starbucks workers to win union elections have been waiting more than 460 days to negotiate a first contract, [Senator Bernie] Sanders pressed Schultz to promise that Starbucks would exchange proposals with the union within 14 days of the hearing.

Schultz declined to make any such promise.

Schultz, who was offended at Sanders referring to him as a billionaire, wants no collective dealings with the underpaid “who we call partners.”

But here’s the glimmer:

Last week at the Starbucks shareholder meeting (03-23-23), the new CEO Laxman Narasimhan did not signal any change in the company’s stance on unions.

But at that same meeting, shareholders voted to approve a proposal for an independent assessment of how well Starbucks is adhering to its commitment to workers’ rights. The company had encouraged shareholders to vote against it.

It seems that this growing union of Starbucks employees has the attention of the shareholders.

As the Starbucks at N. Wickham Rd. in Melbourne, FL, takes its first steps towards forming its union of 21 employees (and adding to that 300+ number of unionized locations), Starbucks’ shareholders may well be noticing the need to work with this increasing collective.


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