Starbucks campaign continues momentum

Starbucks workers added to the momentum of a union campaign announced in late August and upended decades of nonunion work in company-owned stores.

On Thursday and Friday, workers at six stores in upstate New York voted to create unions, according to the National Labor Relations Board, bringing the total number of company-owned stores where workers support a union to 16. Also running in a Kansas store his votes were counted Friday, but the number of contested ballots leaves the result in doubt until its status can be resolved.

The union has only lost one election so far, but is officially challenging the outcome.

Since the union scored its first two wins in elections that ended in December, workers at more than 175 other stores in at least 25 states have filed union elections, out of nearly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the United States. The Labor Council will count votes in at least three other stores next week.

The organizational success at Starbucks appears to reflect growing interest among workers in unions, including efforts at Amazon, where workers last week voted to create a union at a Staten Island warehouse by a wide margin.

On Wednesday, Labor Council General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo announced that filings for union elections rose more than 50 percent over the previous six months versus the same period a year earlier. Ms. Abruzzo expressed concern that funding and staff shortages were making it difficult for the agency to keep pace with the activity, saying in a statement that the board “needs a significant increase in funds to fully operationalize the agency’s mission.”

Starbucks has sought to persuade workers not to join unions by holding anti-union meetings with workers and talks between managers and individual employees, but some employees say the meetings have only stimulated their support for organizing.

In some cases, Starbucks has also sent a number of senior officials to stores from out of town, a move the company says is aimed at tackling operational issues such as hiring and training, but some union supporters said they find intimidating.

The union accused Starbucks of seeking to cut hours nationwide as a way to encourage old employees to leave the company and replace them with workers more suspicious of unions. The union says Starbucks retaliated against workers for supporting the union by disciplining or firing them. Last month, the Labor Council issued a formal complaint against Starbucks to retaliate against two Arizona employees, a move it took after finding merit in the accusations against employers or unions.

The company denied it had cut hours to urge employees to leave, said it was scheduling workers in response to customer demand, and rejected accusations of anti-union activity.

As the union campaign heated up in March, the company announced that Kevin Johnson, who has served as CEO since 2017, would be replaced on a temporary basis by Howard Schultz, who has led the company twice before and remains one of its largest investors.

Some investors who have warned Mr Johnson that the company’s anti-union tactics could damage its reputation have expressed optimism that a leadership change could lead to a shift in Starbucks’ attitude toward the union. But the company soon announced that it would not agree to remain neutral in union elections, as the union had requested, dampening those hopes.

On Monday, the same day Mr. Schultz returned as CEO, the company fired Lily Dalton, an Arizona employee whom the NLRB accused Starbucks of retaliating against in March. The company said Ms Dalton violated company rules by recording co-workers’ conversations without their permission.

“A union partner’s interest does not absolve him from the standards we have always held,” company spokesman Reggie Burgess said in a statement, using the company’s term for the employee.

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