Nov 11, 2021
Starbucks employees in the Buffalo, New York area are casting ballots in a union election which, if successful, would result in the first U.S. bargaining unit at the international coffee chain.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Wednesday began sending out ballots to workers at three store locations which filed for an election in August, setting off an effort by the Seattle-based corporation to "intimidate" the employees out of organizing, according to critics.
"Starbucks will do everything it can to stop Workers United's organizing drive in Buffalo."
The company has attempted to delay the election and has sent high-level corporate employees to the area in recent weeks, as well as former CEO and powerful shareholder Howard Schultz, who held a meeting for workers at a Buffalo-area hotel last weekend ahead of the vote.
AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler tweeted on Tuesday that the corporation has used a number of tactics in the anti-union playbook, including "holding anti-union meetings framed as listening sessions" and telling workers, "Our benefits are already good."
"Starbucks will do everything it can to stop Workers United's organizing drive in Buffalo," Shuler tweeted, referring to the affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which more than 100 Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area are voting on whether to join.
Workers have said the stores are chronically understaffed with insufficient training and pay scales that don't keep up with seniority. Starbucks reported record sales amounting to $29 billion in its 2021 fiscal year.
After the workers filed to hold union elections, Starbucks closed several stores in the Buffalo area and increased staffing at the three stores in question--a common union-busting tactic known as "packing" workplaces, which corporations take to dilute union support.
Former NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman told the New York Times last month that the company's actions appeared to be "part of an overall series of events that seems to create a tendency that people would be chilled or inhibited."
Last weekend, Schultz made waves among critics and some of the employees who attended the meeting he held in Buffalo, where he made an analogy between Starbucks workers and Holocaust victims.
Schultz told the workers that prisoners who were taken to concentration camps were given one blanket to share among five people and that "so much of that story is threaded into what we have tried to do at Starbucks, is share our blanket."
Jewish-led human rights group If Not Now denounced Schultz's use of "the memory of all those who perished in the Holocaust to discourage workers" from attempting to organize their workplace.
On Monday, two days after the meeting, Starbucks filed a motion requesting that the NLRB delay the mailing of ballots to workers while it reviews its decision to hold the election at three locations rather than one. Starbucks had earlier appealed that decision and requested that the employees vote in a single election, which would likely favor the corporation. With workers voting in three locations, a union could be formed with a simple majority at any one of the three stores.
Richard Bensinger, a former organizer with the AFL-CIO, told the Times this week that Starbucks clearly knew "they had to do something to massively disrupt" the union drive.
Workers at the three stores filed a complaint with the NLRB last week saying the company was "engaging in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance, solicitation of grievances, and the closing of facilities"--which could potentially result in the board overturning the election result if the union drive fails.
The NLRB is set to count ballots for the three stores on December 9. On Tuesday, just before the board sent out the ballots, three more stores in Buffalo filed petitions to hold elections as well.
"We are well on our way to winning the first unionized Starbucks store in the U.S.," said Workers United.
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