Starbucks Reserve in Chelsea becomes first to unionize in NYC

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

Starbucks Corp. suffered another blow to its anti-union efforts over the weekend, as the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in New York City joined eight of the other 9,000 company-owned locations nationwide in forming a union.

The roastery in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan filed a petition to unionize to the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 10, initially requesting a vote on March 3. Starbucks delayed the vote to April 1.

“I’m proud of the culmination of our efforts to make our workplaces more democratic and equitable,” employee Ley Kido said in a statement from the Starbucks Workers United union. “Community is a value near and dear to my heart and I’m grateful and joyous to be in solidarity with my peers.”

The 46-36 outcome made the Chelsea location first in the city to unionize. It is the fifth location overall in the state to unionize, with two locations in Buffalo, New York being the first in the nation to do so in 2021, plus an additional two in the city joining on March 9.

“We deserve this,” employee Aimes Shunk said in the SBU statement. “We work HARD at the Roastery EVERY SINGLE DAY. We deserve a living wage, meaningful access to healthcare, REAL job security, agency over our own schedules, and A SEAT AT THE TABLE.”

Employees, who are referred to as “partners,” in Chelsea said they were motivated to vote after seven employees in Memphis, Tennessee were fired in their attempt to unionize. Starbucks said they violated company policy in doing so.

Starbucks continued anti-union efforts up until the roastery’s election by speaking with employees, distributing flyers with anti-union messages and writing up employees for minor offenses, including being late on previousoccasions. The Chelsea employees also cited “a general air of hostility in the workplace” as a reason for unionizing in the SBU statement.

After CEO Kevin Johnson announced his retirement last month, his predecessor Howard Schultz returned to the role on April 4. Schultz previously spoke with employees to discourage unionizing efforts.

“No partner has ever needed to have a representative seek to obtain things we all have as partners at Starbucks,” Schultz wrote in a letter prior to the union votes in Buffalo. “I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now.”

Starbucks locations in Astor Place in Manhattan, Astoria in Queens and the Ceasar’s Bay Shopping Center in Brooklyn are scheduled to have their elections soon. Outside the city, two Long Island locations in Great Neck and Massapequa have also petitioned to form a union, according to the SBU statement.

In light of the Inc. employees at a Staten Island fulfillment center voting to form their company’s first union on the same day, it is worth observing the direction and effectiveness of unionization efforts in New York. For certain, the Chelsea roastery will not be the last in the state to unionize.