National Starbucks unionization echoes in Seattle City Hall as ‘misinformation’ accusations fly
The Seattle City Council has passed a symbolic resolution in solidarity with ongoing, local Starbucks unionization efforts. To date, three Starbucks locations in the Seattle area — downtown, Westlake, and Capitol Hill — have filed for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Over 60 have filed nationwide.
The vote came on the heels of an Associated Press report that seven employees of a Memphis Starbucks location were fired over their labor organizing, according to the terminated employees. Starbucks claims the employees violated company policy by reopening the location after closing, and using the store to do an interview with local media about their unionization efforts.
“Just today we learned that Starbucks has outrageously fired the entire organizing committee,” the resolution’s sponsor Councilmember Kshama Sawant said Tuesday. “We need walkouts and solidarity rallies and cities across the nation, including Seattle, to demand that Starbucks executives give the fired Memphis workers their jobs back.”
The Seattle council does not have the authority to dictate how the Starbucks locations organize through the NLRB. Regardless, the resolution passed 6-0, with Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen abstaining and Councilmember Lisa Herbold not present.
“We know our priorities for the people of Seattle: homelessness, police reform, public safety, housing, affordability, basic services, and so on,” Nelson said.
“I was not elected to take votes on issues that fall beyond the purview of city business. And I believed that a vote on [this] resolution would be just merely symbolic,” she continued. “We have to stay in our lane and spend our time and energy doing things we know will directly help the people and the workers of Seattle.”
The resolution largely advocates for council solidarity with Starbucks unionization efforts while calling on the company to accept “card check neutrality,” a way to streamline unionization elections through the NLRB.
Councilmember Sawant’s rhetoric around the issue has couched the resolution as a simple pass or fail test to check the council’s position on organized labor. Sawant often references the council’s decision to peel back hazard pay for grocery workers in December (a decision that was later reversed with the arrival of the omicron COVID wave) as an indicator of where the rest of the council broadly stands on labor issues.
The decision to sunset hazard pay in December was ultimately submitted for council approval by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. The legislation was crafted and affirmed as a response to the pandemic, and case rates had bottomed out when the council unanimously repealed the requirement (Councilmember Sawant was not present on the day of the vote). To date, Seattle is one of few major metro areas with a hazard pay requirement such as that, which currently exists in Seattle law, and Mosqueda is the original sponsor of the requirement passed in early 2021.
“I just want to make sure that we’re clear today, as we support workers in our city and our region, across our country, that we continue to show solidarity for broader organizing efforts,” Mosqueda said. “[I] want to make sure that we are clear about the past, … and that we stop with the misinformation.”