With four Seattle Starbucks pushing to unionize, one greenlights election date

Feb 21, 2022, 5:05 AM | Updated: 8:29 am
Starbucks Headquarters, Seattle Washington (Flickr)

Amid a surge of local Starbucks locations filing for union elections, only one has succeeded in getting an election on the calendar.

On Friday, the Capitol Hill Starbucks at Denny Way and Broadway won a court case, allowing them to ship union election ballots this week.

Seattle’s flagship Starbucks location throws weight behind nationwide unionization push

The Capitol Hill Starbucks filed for union elections through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in December, setting a precedent for three other Seattle-area locations to follow. Starbucks Corporation challenged those elections. The employer argued that union elections should occur at the district level: in this case, the Broadway location alongside its nine sister stores.

That claim was rejected last week when the labor board held that the Broadway Starbucks can bargain as its own unit, and union ballots were cleared to hit mailboxes on Feb. 25.

In January, organizing members with the Broadway location told MyNorthwest the claim was a “stalling tactic” that has been brought against the majority of nationwide Starbucks union elections filings. The claim largely relates to calling into question the authority of store managers: if they exercise control over labor relations, including hiring, scheduling, and discipline, in a way consistent with the demands of collective bargaining.

As evidence, Starbucks Corporation maintained that the Broadway location had minimal autonomy as a store in relation to its corporate structure: Many day-to-day policies and operations are dictated at the district level.

The elections petitioners held that store managers, including at the Broadway location, have meaningful control over their stores and therefore can negotiate working conditions under a collective bargaining agreement were Broadway to approve union elections in March.

Petitioners add that unique considerations for individual stores can affect hours of operation and scheduling, policies that cannot be entirely dictated at the district level. They cited fluctuating customer volume according to when the University of Washington is in full session, and that “civil unrest” closed the Broadway store for months in 2020.

Both were considered “unique factors” for the Capitol Hill location that distinguishes it from other Starbucks locations.

Starbucks Corporation further alleges that employee duties and skills are largely interchangeable with other locations, evidence to support their desire to see elections held at the district level.

Conversely, the NLRB points out unique qualities of the Broadway Starbucks. The NLRB mentions security personnel that the Broadway Starbucks requires, citing a recent physical assault of one barista. Organizing members with the location told MyNorthwest, in reference to that incident: “We had a partner who was punched in the face at the store. I believe she was given one day from the company for paid time off, and then had to use … sick time after that,” organizer Rachel Ybarra said.

Subsequently added security, in addition to “greater empathy skills” required to “deal with a challenging customer base, including customers that are inebriated or experiencing mental health issues” were meaningful factors against the argument that the Broadway Starbucks’ employees are interchangeable with other locations.

Ballots from Broadway Starbucks employees are scheduled to be counted by the regional NLRB on March 22.

To date, Starbucks Workers United, the Service Employees International Union affiliate, has filed for union elections in 26 states among 97 stores. Four are located in Seattle: at the Westlake drive-thru, Fifth Avenue and Pike Street, 1124 Pike Street, and Broadway and Denny Way.

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With four Seattle Starbucks pushing to unionize, one greenlights election date