Push to unionize Starbucks stores has landed in California – and 5 Bay Area locations could be next

The campaign to organize Starbucks workers is finally coming to union-friendly California, as workers at three stores have filed federal paperwork to unionize in the past three weeks and organizers say co-workers at more than 14 others state stores are interested in joining them.

Two of the three stores are in Santa Cruz — the third is in Chatsworth, a Los Angeles suburb — with union votes in Santa Cruz stores as early as late March, organizer Joseph Thompson told The Chronicle. Five of the other 14 are in the Bay Area, Thompson said.

Thompson, an 18-year-old UC Santa Cruz student, said he and his colleagues were inspired by Starbucks employees in Buffalo, New York, who voted in December to become the first store to be unionized in the coffee chain with 9,000 outlets. . The organizing movement spread from New York to Chicago, Colorado, and then to the West Coast. Starbucks United Workersa national organizing group, said workers at 64 stores had filed for union elections in 18 states.

“We’re watching what’s happening in Buffalo, and it’s really inspiring to see,” Thompson said Monday. “We felt there was no way to get companies to change their policies without forming a union.”

Leaders of the California Federation of Labor, which has 2.1 million members, lend their support, but point out that this movement is led by Starbucks employees who are talking to each other and organizing online locally until here.

So why did it take so long to reach California? Thompson, who earns $20.57 an hour, said one reason could be that wages here are higher than in other parts of the country (as is the cost of living) and that there are more protections for workers here than elsewhere.

But Steve Smith, a spokesman for the federation of labor, said that “given the amount of resources that Starbucks has at its disposal, instigating unionization is very difficult to do. Workers rightly fear losing their jobs. And this is the case in California as well as in any other state in the country.

Smith said, however, “I think you’re going to see more public support for the organization, and that includes getting more political support here in California than you would in other states and that will be a benefit to the as this effort progresses. ”

Joseph Thompson works at a Starbucks location on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz and currently leads organizing efforts at Starbucks locations across the state.

Bronte Wittpenn/The Chronicle

One reason why there might be more support: the potential membership gain for the union could be substantial. Each Starbucks typically has 20 to 30 employees, and the Seattle-based chain has nearly 3,000 stores in California, according to data collection site Scrapehero.

Most importantly, from the union’s perspective, many of the organizers are young, like Thompson.

“We’ve known for a few years that workers aged 18 to 25 are the most pro-union group we’ve ever seen in our lifetime,” Smith said, noting that union approval is 80% among young people. workers, according to an internal union survey.

This is a generation that grew up in a post-9/11 world, through war, major recession, housing collapse, pandemic, and saw student debt soar. Many, Smith said, see unionization as a way to regain some semblance of power and equality with their employers.

“So you have leaders like Joseph (Thompson), who are 18, 19, 20, organizing their colleagues,” Smith said. “It’s incredibly exciting for the future of the labor movement. In fact, this is the future of the labor movement.

Thompson grew up in rural Placer County and moved to Texas to live with his aunt and sister when he was in high school. He said he started working at Starbucks when he was 16, in part because he needed the benefits. He grew up being regularly food insecure and dependent on Medical for his health insurance. Starbucks provides health insurance to its part-time workers. Thompson was born with a genetic condition where all of his teeth have very little enamel.

“So I needed to get medical care quickly just to fix this problem,” he said.

In high school, he worked 12 to 20 hours a week at a pizza place and about 20 more at Starbucks to make ends meet. He said he loved his manager there and appreciated the company’s help in securing additional benefits and pay during the early days of the pandemic.

That sentiment changed shortly after he moved to California last summer for college and started working at a local Starbucks. Shortly after he began working there, he and his colleagues began to feel threatened by patrons acting threatening towards them and overdosing in the bathroom, he said.

Thompson said Starbucks refused requests for a security guard, Narcan to address opioid overdoses and a safe box in bathrooms to drop off used needles. A Starbucks spokesperson said the store’s bathroom has been closed for a few months and a needle safe will be added after the bathroom reopens and another is located behind the counter . The spokesperson said the company did not have an official application file for a safety officer, but took all concerns about worker safety very seriously, especially when it came to security issues. opioids.

As for high sales, the spokesperson Starbucks has faced the same economic pressures as other chain stores that have struggled to hire and retain employees. The company has committed $1 billion to increasing salaries and benefits over the past two years.

Last week, Starbucks announced that its profits had increased by 31% in the last three months of last year. Total compensation for its CEO Kevin Johnson rose 39% in 2021 to $20.4 million.

Thompson said many of these local moves would not have happened without the pressure of a union campaign.

“Overall, no one felt like their voice was heard,” said Thompson, who added that he was “not anti-Starbucks” and wanted the company to live up to the values ​​that Starbucks believes. she preaches. “They’re doing their best to make sure we’re safe now, but they wouldn’t have cared until we filed our petition.”

Aly Young, organizing director for the California Federation of Labor, has seen what frequently happens in the wake of a budding labor campaign at Starbucks in other parts of the country.

The company will begin engaging in “relentless communication with Starbucks workers through text messages and one-on-one meetings, urging them to ‘vote no.’ Vote no. Vote no and create pressure inside stores,” Young said. “It’s like a carrot and stick approach. They will say, ‘We appreciate you.’ But then they’re going to be relentless in saying why the union is bad and why we need you to vote no.

This approach hasn’t hit California yet, but Young predicted, “it’s happening.”

A Starbucks spokesperson said the company was not union busting. The conversations managers have with employees about unions aren’t anti-union, the spokesperson said, but an effort to answer any questions they might have.

“We will listen and learn from partners in stores as we always do across the country,” company spokeswoman Sarah Albanesi said, noting that “partners” are what Starbucks refers to as its employees. “Our success in the past and in the future is based on how we associate and the relationships we have with each other.”

Thompson knows that at this time there are many other stores with job openings. But he wants it to work at Starbucks.

“Either we’re going to be successful in winning our union and having a union in our store,” Thompson said. “Or for me and many of our partners, we don’t see how we could continue to work for Starbucks.”

Joe Garofoli is the San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political editor. Email: [email protected]: @joegarofoli

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