Progressive lawmakers are celebrating after Starbucks workers in Buffalo triumphed over nearly insurmountable odds to form the company’s first-ever union on Thursday, a sign that the reawakening U.S. labor movement is growing stronger.
Workers at the Elmwood location in Buffalo voted overwhelmingly to form a union, 19 to 8. One store, Camp Road, voted against unionizing; the count from Genesee Street, the third location whose votes were slated to be counted on Thursday, has not yet been finalized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). As of the unofficial count, however, the union is ahead 15 to 9, not counting seven challenged ballots. The union is confident that the vote will end up going their way.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) congratulated Elmwood workers for “the HISTORIC achievement of organizing the first-ever union at a company-owned Starbucks in the U.S.” He continued to criticize Starbucks, saying, “The company should stop pouring money into the fight against the union and negotiate a fair contract now.”
The company poured a multitude of resources into its fight against the union, sending high-level executives to Buffalo to surveil and intimidate workers, holding mandatory meetings to promote anti-union propaganda, and telling workers to vote no. As More Perfect Union uncovered, the company was so desperate to union bust that it fired an employee with cancer because she was uncovering the company’s shady union-busting tactics.
Sanders said that the workers’ efforts were inspiring, especially in the face of such strong opposition. “Workers with [Starbucks Workers United] made history today. They are a tremendous inspiration and it is so encouraging to see people all over the country standing up for themselves and each other,” he wrote. “In solidarity, together, working people can achieve the dignity they deserve.”
In a tweet celebrating the workers’ effort, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) also highlighted the company’s union-busting campaign. “Hell yeah! Nothing like the smell of union coffee in the morning,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Congrats to [Starbucks Workers United] in Buffalo for making the first unionized Starbucks in the US! When we visited last month, workers shared the immense pressure they were under. Proud of them for pulling through.”
Even after Elmwood was unionized, Starbucks corporate sent a letter expressing its disappointment over the vote. “I am saddened that in the end the majority of you decided it was best for Workers United to represent you to myself, your District Manager and your Store Managers,” wrote Starbucks district manager Michaela Murphy in a letter to Elmwood. “Everything we love most about Starbucks is the direct relationship we have to each of you and our ability to work together to create a better tomorrow.” Murphy then claimed that the union campaign was “divisive” for the staff.
In response, Starbucks Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, pointed out the company’s hypocrisy. “We ask them to live up to the company’s Mission & Values and collaborate with us, instead of continuing to change our work environment by trying to pit partners against partners in our store and third-partying our union,” the union wrote.
Still, the win is a tremendous one for the labor movement, which has been in the midst of a resurgence in recent months and years. Last month, John Deere workers voted for a new contract after a 10,000 person, month-long strike. Nearly 100,000 workers were on strike at the same time in October, with union members across many industries fighting for better working conditions as the pandemic rages on.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) encouraged labor activists to continue fighting in a post on Twitter, saying, “Let’s unionize the whole country, and the world! Then let’s make these companies worker owned!”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus also feted the win, offering congratulations to the workers and promoting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize amid a time of decreasing union membership. “Every worker in the country should have the right to organize and join a union,” the caucus wrote. “It’s just one more reason we need to abolish the filibuster and pass the PRO Act in the Senate.”