Starbucks Union Scores First Unanimous Win in the South

Starbucks workers have voted unanimously to unionize at a South Carolina store, marking the union’s second win in the least unionized state in the country.

The Starbucks location in Anderson, South Carolina, voted 18 to 0 to unionize, marking the union’s first unanimous win in the South, according to Starbucks Workers United. The store was the third to file for a union petition in the state, citing grievances regarding pay and poor working conditions.

“[A]s it stands currently, corporate is severely out of touch with what goes on inside our cafe,” the workers wrote in their letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announcing their union effort in March. “Every opportunity for improvement is met with pushback by corporate as the [company] seeks profit over ethics.”

The union’s victory is especially remarkable in South Carolina, the state with the lowest union density in the U.S., at only 1.7 percent unionized in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall union membership rate across the country last year was already low, at just 10.3 percent.

Just last week, the union won its first store in South Carolina in Greenville, which voted 8 to 1 for the union. Greenville has been described in previous decades as one of the “most relentlessly anti-union cities in the nation,” John Logan noted for Truthout. The state has a history of deep-rooted anti-union sentiment and so-called right-to-work laws that make it harder for unions to organize and represent workers.

The win is another in a small mountain of victories; on Friday, the union hit a milestone of 100 unionized stores, with over 270 union filings and more filings coming nearly every day. Only 13 stores have lost their elections, including six stores in the South — meaning that the union’s success rate is nearly 90 percent. This is a remarkable rate for a union comprised largely of young organizers who labor experts say are boldly breaking the rules of traditional labor organizing.

As workers have formed unions, they’re also organizing protests across the country, including a protest last week at another South Carolina location that’s in the midst of a union drive.

On Tuesday, workers at the Cleveland Circle location in Boston began a one-day strike in order to protest what they say are dire infrastructure issues at their store. In a letter to management, the workers noted that management had instructed them to continue working as water pooled on the floor due to large water leaks in the ceiling that continued for hours. The store recently voted to unionize.

These leaks, which workers say happen every time it rains, posed hazards to workers, who were at risk of slipping and falling as they worked, they wrote. Further, when the store closed due to the leak, workers were left in the dark as to whether they would get hazard pay for the hours they missed that day.

“Lack of communication and guidance from upper management, especially under these conditions, is unacceptable,” the workers said. They plan to return to work after the strike concludes at 9 pm on Monday, on the condition that the company fixes the hazards that have been causing safety problems in the store.