Just days before workers at three Buffalo-area Starbucks stores began voting to unionize, both workers and management took steps that reflected the high risks involved, including Starbucks’ attempt to delay the election on Monday.
No corporate Starbucks stores in the United States are unionized. Since workers in three locations filed petitions The company, which sought to join a union in August, brought in officials from out of state, including executives and the head of North American retail, to fix problems at stores in the region.
The union filed a criminal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last week, accusing the company of illegally “participating in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance, complaint-collecting and plant closures” during the election campaign.
On Saturday afternoon, Starbucks closed its stores in the area so workers could attend a speech at a local hotel by Howard Schultz, the company’s largest individual shareholder and former CEO.
Participation in the session was voluntary and Mr. Schultz did not openly mention the union campaign. But according to a transcript provided by Starbucks, he repeatedly referred to the effort to unionize.
“We are not a perfect company,” Mr. Schultz told employees at the meeting—baristas, managers, and company officials. “Mistakes are made. We learn from them and try to fix them.” He argued that the company’s history of doing the right thing, including offering healthcare benefits and equity to its employees, shows that it considers their interests.
When I visited the area in September to speak with managers, he said on Saturday, without specifying the problems, “I’ve heard things I’ve never heard before about the condition of some of the stores where some of you work.” “I made a promise to the managers that all of this would be addressed and fixed.”
Workers supporting the union he quoted chronic understaffing, inadequate training, and pay increases that cannot keep up with seniority. Some say the problems were further complicated by the pandemic, but came long before it. company in October announced a new payment plan This includes wage increases.
Union supporters who want to become a member of Workers United, affiliated to the Giant Service Workers International Union, also say that they want to have a say in solving the problems that arise at work.
The National Labor Relations Board is scheduled to begin sending ballots to workers at the three stores on Wednesday; They will be back by December 8th. to manage From a regional official of the labor board, the three stores are scheduled to hold separate elections, meaning an absolute majority in any of the stores will form a union.
But on Monday, Starbucks appealed the decision, arguing that the acting district manager of the board had made the mistake of not making a single selection that covers all stores in the Buffalo area instead. He asked the NLRB in Washington to review the decision and wait for the ballots to be mailed out until the board of directors decides. A single, larger selection usually favors the employer.
Some workers who attended Mr. Schultz’s speech were confused by a story he told about the Holocaust, in which he noted that only a small percentage of prisoners in German concentration camps received blankets, but often shared them with other prisoners.
“Most of this story is connected with sharing our blanket, which we tried to make at Starbucks,” said Mr. Schultz, according to the transcript.
“I felt like that wasn’t a very appropriate analogy,” Colin Cochran, a Buffalo barista and union supporter, said in a text message to a reporter.
After Mr. Schultz finished, a union supporter stood up and urged Starbucks to support a set of “fair selection principles”, including allowing the union to present its case to workers on company time.
Some in the audience cheered the worker while others cheered for an employee speaking out to criticize the union campaign, video provided by the company. Bloomberg reported before the meeting.
Union supporters complained about the presence of non-state officials.
Former labor board officials say The presence of officials, the closure of stores in the area, and large increases in staffing at stores applying for union elections could jeopardize the so-called laboratory conditions that should have prevailed during an election campaign and lead to the board overturning the decision. The result is if the union loses.
Starbucks said it doesn’t believe any of its actions will warrant the annulment of an election, and that company officials have helped resolve operational issues such as staff shortages and lack of training. The company said it makes similar changes frequently in other cities.
After workers began their union campaign, Starbucks closed several stores in the Buffalo area and converted one of them into an education facility. Two of the stores have reopened.
Sierra Hayes, who has worked as a barista at a Starbucks in the Buffalo area while attending college for the past three years, said she found the presence of out-of-town officials helpful. Ms. Hayes spoke of a remodel of her store that officials inspected, which she said made working there more efficient.
In an interview produced by a Starbucks spokesperson, Ms Hayes said that supervisors were sensitive to input from employees during her time with the company, and she was worried that having a union could change that.
“I feel like adding a third party is ruining a relationship that has gone really well so far,” she said. “A lot of the great things we had at Starbucks were ideas from partners.”
The union also accuses the company of trying to dilute its support by transferring or hiring significant numbers of additional workers at two of the three stores to be voted on.
According to the union, a store near the Buffalo airport had about 20 employees eligible to vote when workers submitted their petition in late August. The company soon said it had 27 eligible voters in store; The company’s more recent list of eligible voters shared with the union had 46 workers.
Richard Bensinger, a former organizing director for the AFL-CIO, which helps Starbucks employees organize for Workers United, said the increase in numbers was significant because support for the union was unanimous at the time of the election among workers the union deemed fit. filing.
“The company knew they had to do something to drastically disrupt the campaign with 100 percent support,” Mr. Bensinger said in an email.
Wilma B. Liebman, a former NLRB chairman, said the board of directors may conclude that the company has illegally “filled” the store if hiring or transferring voters does not serve a legitimate business purpose and voters have reason to believe it is likely. oppose the union Long-time employees in the store said The addition of workers resulted in overstaffing and crowding behind the bar.
Starbucks said its final voter list included a number of workers from other stores that helped fill the airport’s staffing shortages. He said these workers were eligible to vote according to the labor board criteria.