Starbucks union organizes record 21 stores in 1 day

Dive Brief:

  • Workers at 21 Starbucks locations announced their intent to join Starbucks Workers United on Tuesday, according to a screenshot of a letter signed by the committees of the stores in question, which Starbucks Workers United posted on social media.
  • The 21-store organizing push is the largest single-day total for new stores publicly joining the campaign, surpassing Jan. 31, 2022, when organizing committees at 14 stores went public in a single day.
  • A Starbucks spokesperson said the company wants to reach contracts at all organized stores this year. The one-day organizing spree is likely meant to increase pressure on Starbucks during negotiations by showing the union can organize large numbers of new workers, even after years of attritional battles between the organized baristas and their employer. 

Dive Insight:

The 21 stores represent about 4% of the total number of Starbucks cafes with public union activity, based on National Labor Relations Board records. As of Feb. 9, 482 stores had filed for union elections and the union had secured victory in 386 locations, or 84% of the 459 elections in which the NLRB has certified a result.

Starbucks said it that a “direct relationship” with its workers, meaning one not mediated by a union, “is core to our culture and continued improvements to the partner experience,” and that it sees NLRB elections, rather than voluntary recognition, as the proper path for deciding union representation. In a rule change in mid-2023, the NLRB stated that an employer facing an organizing push by a majority of workers in a bargaining unit must either voluntarily recognize or file for an election, as opposed to previous rules which gave the union responsibility for filing for an election.

“Starbucks says it values our voices and prefers a direct relationship with us, but the only way we can have an authentic voice is when we speak together as a union,” Alex Taylor, a Starbucks barista in Madison, Wisconsin, said in a statement emailed to Restaurant Dive, HR Dive’s sister publication.

Starbucks has recently begun using an argument developed by SpaceX that the NLRB, an agency which has existed since 1935, wields quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative authority in violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers between different branches of government. Starbucks has started using the argument that the NLRB is unconstitutional as a an affirmative defense in unfair labor practice cases brought before the board, Michael Sainato, a labor reporter for The Guardian, said Friday. Starbucks confirmed that report to Restaurant Dive, but said it has not joined the case seeking to dismantle the NLRB.

Starbucks’ response to its union has led to significant regulatory defeats, with NLRB judges finding the company violated labor law in 48 out of 49 rulings, according to Bloomberg Law. At the same time, the chain’s decision to sue Workers United over pro-Palestinian social media posts made by union members may have contributed to Starbucks weakened traffic with occasional consumers in the U.S. last quarter.