A group of local Starbucks cafe employees are pushing for union representation as part of larger organizing efforts across the chain's national footprint.Hourly workers at Starbucks at 8880 S. Howell Ave. in Oak Creek sent a letter Friday morning to the store' manager and Starbucks chief executive officer Kevin Johnson, demanding union recognition and requesting response by Feb. 17 at 3 p.m. Sixteen of the location's 30 workers signed the letter, according to a spokesperson from the Chicago and Midwest Joint Board of national labor union Workers United. An "overwhelming majority" of those 30 workers have signed union authorization cards. CMJB declined to disclose an exact count. They want the company to voluntarily and willingly acknowledge their union. If that doesn't happen, the group will file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.The local group joins workers at more than 60 Starbucks locations in 14 states organizing under the Starbucks Workers United movement, according to Eater. In the Midwest, workers at dozens of Starbucks locations have filed for elections, including in Cleveland, Chicago, and the Twin Cities. These workers are all filing for representation with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.On Thursday, three Starbucks stores in New York City, including the company's Manhattan roastery filed petitions with the NLRB to unionize under Workers United. They've requested to hold a vote March 3, according to the New York Times.Momentum has been building since last year when workers at three Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York launched a campaign to unionize. Of those three locations, two ultimately voted in favor of unionizing.Those victories inspired Hannah Fogarty, a barista at the South Howell Avenue location, to reach out to Workers United in early January. From there, she started having conversations with her co-workers to gauge their interest; she soon found it wasn't difficult to rally their support."A lot of the things we already talk about on a daily basis are things that can be solved with a union, such as changes to the COVID policy and wages," said Fogarty.Safety - both physical and financial - is the driving force behind the group's push for union representation, said Fogarty. She currently makes $13 per hour and says it's not enough for everyday expenses and bills, let alone savings. She didn't share what kind of wage increase the group would demand from Starbucks, but said anything under $15 an hour is not livable.The group also wants paid sick leave to extend beyond COVID-19, which is the only illness that's currently covered under Starbucks COVID safety policies.Pam Fendt, president of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, issued a statement in support of the Oak Creek workers' demands:"My message to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is this: Keep your union busting and anti-worker intimidation out of Wisconsin. In our state, we have each other's backs, we are union proud, and we are going to be fighting alongside our union siblings at Starbucks in Oak Creek until justice is won, and they have secured their first union contract."
In a statement sent to BizTimes Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for Starbucks said the company is listening to and learning from their pro-union employees. While it doesn't favor unionizing, the company respects employees' right to organize and will bargain in good faith.
Rossann Williams, Starbucks' executive vice president and president, North America, expanded on the company's position in a December letter to employees:
"From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we do not want a union between us as partners, and that conviction has not changed. However, we have also said that we respect the legal process. This means we will bargain in good faith with the union that represents partners in the one Buffalo store that voted in favor of union representation. Our hope is that union representatives also come to the table with mutual good faith, respect and positive intent."
Eater has reported that Starbucks has used union-busting tactics, including firing seven employees at a Memphis store where a union campaign was underway.The Oak Creek store may be the first local Starbucks location to take steps toward unionizing, but it's not the first group of service sector employees to make this push.Workers at Milwaukee-based Colectivo Coffee Roasters voted to unionize last summer but are still waiting for the negotiation process to fully get underway. In addition, entertainment venue and eatery Bounce Milwaukee reopened as a union shop last fall after an 18-month shutdown due to the pandemic. Owners Becky Cooper and Ryan Clancy initiated the process and actively sought union representation for their employees through the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality workers union. Meanwhile, the number of union members or workers who are represented by a union in the state fell in 2021, a year after both figures grew in 2020, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last month.