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Starbucks Workers Unanimously Vote to Form Union in Seattle, Company’s Hometown

The Broadway and Denny store is located in incoming CEO Howard Schultz’s home district.

A view of the Seattle's Space Needle, in front of a Starbucks coffee sign, on September 30, 2006.

Starbucks workers in Seattle won their union with a unanimous vote on Tuesday, becoming the first store in the company’s hometown to form a union in several decades.

Workers voted 9 to 0 to form a union at the Broadway and Denny store, becoming the seventh location to unionize with SEIU-affiliated Workers United. The win hits close to home for the company, which is in the midst of a fierce union-busting campaign across the country.

“We are so excited to win our union unanimously and for what this means for the national movement. Our victory is going to make other Starbucks partners confident and show that we can organize Starbucks,” said Sydney Durkin, a shift supervisor at Broadway and Denny. “This is what happens when workers stand together and fight together.”

The Broadway and Denny store, which filed to unionize in December, is a popular location for corporate employees to visit on their way to work, workers said. The store is located in incoming CEO Howard Schultz’s home district and is only 10 minutes by car from Starbucks’s headquarters in downtown Seattle.

Workers say that while the company has been using aggressive union-busting tactics in other parts of the country, it has treated pro-union employees in Seattle with much more respect. While the company tried to union bust by singling out individual workers during the first weeks of their campaign, the union busting stopped abruptly after a month, which was “really jarring,” said Rachel Ybarra, a barista at Broadway and Denny.

“It’s hard not to think that it has to do with who Starbucks is choosing to discipline. Buffalo was the first to file, so it got hit hard,” said Ybarra. “But Mesa and Memphis – almost all the organizers they’ve fired have been of color. It’s impossible not to notice that.”

Ybarra added that it was “disgusting” that the company turned other stores into a “warzone” while giving Seattle organizers special treatment.

The workers condemned Starbucks for union busting and asked the company to live up to its supposed progressive principles.

“There’s a right side of history and a wrong side of history, and right now, Starbucks is on the wrong side of history,” Durkin said. “Union rights are civil rights, and Howard Schultz’ old union busting tactics won’t work here.”

The unionization comes just as Schultz is preparing to take over for Kevin Johnson as interim CEO. Workers have said that Schultz is being brought back in specifically for his union-busting capabilities; several Starbucks locations and a roastery were unionized in the 1980s, but the union was decertified in the 1990s while Schultz was leading the company. In his 1999 memoir and in conversations with workers, Schultz has described unionization as a personal affront to him and his leadership.

The union-busting campaign has faced scrutiny from lawmakers. In a letter to Schultz sent by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) on Tuesday, Sanders called on Schultz and the company to stop union busting and “obey the law.” The lawmaker pointed out that the U.S. Constitution guarantees workers the right to organize.

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