Trio of Seattle Starbucks locations now pushing to unionize, claim company is ‘stalling’

Jan 25, 2022, 2:28 PM | Updated: Jan 26, 2022, 11:26 am
Seattle Councilmember Sawant delivers a speech outside of Starbucks HQ, pledging support of SB Workers United. (Photo via Facebook)
(Photo via Facebook)

Organized labor reached Starbucks’ headquarters Tuesday morning, when Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant demanded council support for Starbucks worker unionization efforts across the region.

Sawant delivered a speech on Tuesday outside of Starbucks Center in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, where she dedicated $10,000 from her solidarity fund to Starbucks Workers United — the union which represents national labor organizing in 30 current Starbucks locations. She also announced the introduction of a council resolution that calls on Starbucks to accept card check neutrality.

Card check neutrality has the potential to streamline the unionization process. It allows employees and new hires to indicate if they desire union representation. If a majority says “yes,” the company would recognize Starbucks Workers United (an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union) as a bargaining entity, circumventing the standard National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process.

This comes in the wake of Starbucks employees at Capitol Hill’s Broadway and Denny Way location filing for union elections on Dec. 20, 2021. Two additional Seattle-based stores — one at Westlake and another at Fifth and Pike — also filed for union elections with the NLRB on Monday, Jan. 24, an NLRB spokesperson confirmed.

“By voting yes on the resolution, Seattle City Councilmembers will take a stand with Starbucks workers rather than just saying woke things things when they don’t matter,” Sawant said in her speech. “They will call on Starbucks corporation to accept card check neutrality, which is recognizing a union when the majority of a workforce signs union cards and allows employees to discuss unionization, free from intimidation and anti-union propaganda.”

Organizing members at the Capitol Hill Starbucks location told MyNorthwest that the company has engaged in “stalling tactics” to delay a unionization vote. According to the employees, Starbucks Corporation’s argument to the NLRB has been contingent on the idea that stores can only file for union elections as a district, rather than as individual locations.

“Starbucks is coming in and saying, ‘no, our stores are so interconnected that the appropriate unit is the district … because one store organizing and becoming a union would affect the entire district so drastically,’” Broadway and Denny Starbucks employee Rachel Ybarra told MyNorthwest.

“It’s been tossed out in Buffalo, in Arizona, and we assume it’ll be tossed out here as well,” she added. “It’s a stalling tactic.”

To date, two Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, have won union elections.

“We’re very confident that we will win this case. … In the hearing, the judge opened with the burden of proof is on the employer to prove that a single store … is an [inappropriate] bargaining unit,” Durkin continued.

“Starbucks has a really uphill battle trying to prove that case for a lot of reasons. One is because district lines are redrawn every single year — they’re really arbitrary. Starbucks basically can prove that the district manager has enough jurisdiction over individual stores more than the store manager. … Legally to the NLRB, it’s basically impossible to prove that.”

Union elections at the Capitol Hill location have yet to be scheduled.

An unfair labor practices complaint was filed against Starbucks Corporation on Jan. 21, which alleges that the company “unlawfully disciplined a bargaining unit member in retaliation for her protected concerted activity in support of the Workers United organizing drive.”

“We were really kind of left alone for a very long time until today [Jan. 20] when they brought in our district manager, and another store manager,” Sydney Durkin, another organizing member, told MyNorthwest.

A Starbucks spokesperson told KIRO 7 TV’s Lauren Donovan that the company denies any claims of union busting, and they support a worker’s right to unionize.

Local News

(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)...
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Trio of Seattle Starbucks locations now pushing to unionize, claim company is ‘stalling’