Three More Starbucks Locations in Buffalo Will Soon Vote on Unionization

Three more Starbucks stores in the Buffalo, New York, area will soon get a union election, a regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official ruled on Friday. Their elections will mark seven total union elections held at corporate-owned Starbucks locations so far over the past months.

NLRB acting regional director Nancy Wilson wrote in her decision that the vote will happen store-by-store, rather than on a regional basis encompassing 19 stores, as the company had petitioned to water down the vote. Ballots will be mailed out on January 31 and are due back by February 22.

Workers at three New York stores – in Cheektowaga, Amherst and Depew – filed their petitions to unionize in November. If successful, they will join Starbucks Workers United, a Service Employees International Union affiliate. They would join the two Starbucks locations, also in the Buffalo area, that recently voted to form a union.

Starbucks workers in Mesa, Arizona, are currently in the process of conducting their union election, as ballots were mailed to workers on January 14. The NLRB similarly ruled against holding regional elections, saying that the election there would be held store-by-store.

The elections come during a watershed moment for the labor movement among Starbucks employees. Locations across the country have been filing to unionize at an incredibly fast pace.

Over the weekend, Starbucks workers in Baltimore and at Chicago’s Hyde Park and Downtown La Grange locations announced that they are filing petitions for an election, joining the roughly 18 stores across nearly a dozen states that have filed to unionize so far over the past months.

Workers at Baltimore’s North Charles Street Starbucks location wrote in their letter to CEO Kevin Johnson that Buffalo was an inspiration for their union campaign. They further cited the dangerous working conditions imposed by the company, with “chronic understaffing and a complete lack of agency,” as well as pandemic concerns as a reason for the workers to organize.

The two unionized Buffalo locations “have provided a clear path for us to organize ourselves,” the workers wrote. “We’ve run ourselves ragged in increasingly stressful working conditions without reaping any of the benefits, and the only way to improve these conditions is to organize as a unified working class and assert democratic control over our workplace.”

Hyde Park workers said that customers have “become more aggressive” as the pandemic has dragged on, and the company has failed to recognize employees’ efforts as frontline workers. “[W]e feel that profits have become more important than our well-being, health, and safety,” they wrote. “Even amidst one of the worst global health crises, we have been discouraged from staying home when sick.”

Being encouraged to work while sick seems to be a recurring complaint from Starbucks employees across many locations. As More Perfect Union uncovered last month, the company even forced a worker, Brittany Harrison, to work while sick with cancer and denied her paid sick leave. She ultimately resigned, she said, partly because of pressure from the company after she spoke out about the company’s union-busting practices.

The company has indeed been interfering with workers’ unionization efforts. Last year, it sent company executives to store locations in Buffalo to intimidate workers and potentially encourage them to vote against the union; the company has also flat out told workers to vote against forming a union and held mandatory anti-union meetings to discourage workers from voting “yes.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the circumstances around Brittany Harrison’s resignation.