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Starbucks to open discussions in big win for unionizers

Judah Duke

Starbucks Corp. will begin talks with Workers United unionizers for the first time to discuss contracts and a framework that would kickstart bargaining agreements and potentially resolve pending litigation. 

“It is a clear demonstration of our intent to build a constructive relationship with Workers United in the interests of our partners,” Starbucks Chief Partner Officer Sarah Kelly wrote in a statement. 

The upcoming talks mark progress in the union’s efforts to secure a labor agreement, initiated after baristas in Buffalo, NY, organized in December 2021 to protest unfair working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement followed the company’s three-year-long pushback against the union, which represents about 10,000 employees across 400 stores. 

“It’s a huge win for us workers, especially the workers who have been denied certain raises and benefits, and those raises and benefits will be the first things negotiated realistically,” Starbucks employee and union member Brandi Alduk told The Ticker. 

Alduk began working at a Manhattan Starbucks in 2019, later relocating to a Queens location in the summer of 2020. She helped unionize her store in February 2022 by joining the National Bargaining Committee to help create a framework to bring contract language to Starbucks. 

Starbucks said the forthcoming plan “includes resolving litigation related to both the partner benefits announced in May 2022, and the use of the Starbucks brand.” 

Starbucks previously took legal action against Workers United for the “misuse” of the Starbucks logo in expressing solidarity with Palestine on X. Workers United countersued, saying Starbucks defamed the union by implying that it supports terrorism and violence.

Since 2021, Starbucks’ union-busting endeavors have cost shareholders an estimated $240 million, according to the Strategic Organizing Center.    

In May 2022, Starbucks announced wage increases and benefits for non-union workers, with former CEO Howard Schultz stating federal law “prohibits us from promising new wages and benefits at stores involved in union organizing.” In September 2023, a National Labor Relations Board judge found that Starbucks violated federal and labor law by withholding benefits from unionized workers, contributing to at least 120 NLRB complaints against the company for unfair labor practices. 

Other cases of union busting have included the firing of workers who lead unionization efforts at stores.

According to Alduk, the union’s efforts have already started to see shifts in the workplace despite Starbucks’ attempts at intimidation.

“Before our union effort, there was this huge belief that managers could do no wrong,” Alduk said. “I think it really shifted the power dynamics of the workplace that allowed it so that workers could more easily stand up for their rights once we joined our union.”  

During the early days of unionization at the Astoria Boulevard location, Alduk was written up and soon observed the enforcement of dress code and other rules that had not been applied previously. She also cited exclusions from benefits that non-unionized stores had, which included credit card tipping. 

“They denied us all the changes that they brought into non-union stores,” she said. “They tried to intimidate you into not wearing your union merchandise which you’re legally protected to do.” 

Alduk’s union is currently recruiting workers from various stores for their bargaining committee, aiming to have a representative from each store participate in some capacity as discussions are expected to begin in late March or early April.

Alduk said the discussions could set an example for other unions.

“This can show people and other fast-food workers that unions are an option for you, and not just people that have a certain skill,” she said. “It’s everything that can be unionized. We all deserve a fair contract, we all deserve fair, equitable working conditions, and we can all fight for those things regardless of what industry you’re a part of.” 

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Judah Duke
Judah Duke, Business Editor
Judah Duke is the Business Editor of the Ticker.
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