Oak Creek Starbucks workers vote in favor of unionizing

Workers at Starbucks in Oak Creek in February publicly announced demands to unionize. Photo credit: CMRJB

Last updated on May 2nd, 2022 at 12:04 pm

A Starbucks in Oak Creek has become the chain’s first Wisconsin cafe to unionize after workers voted 15-8 in favor of union representation.

Organizers announced the results of the National Labor Relations Board election Thursday, just two months after employees at the 8880 S. Howell Ave. cafe first demanded union recognition. The local group has elected Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, as its bargaining representative.

The Oak Creek cafe is among more than 200 Starbucks locations nationwide that have filed for representation with Workers United as part of the larger Starbucks Workers United movement to improve working conditions for all Starbucks employees.

According to a report by NPR, 20 Starbucks stores across the country have now unionized. The Oak Creek cafe is the first to do so in Wisconsin, but workers in other parts of the state, including Plover, Madison and the Fox Valley, are in the process of campaigning for an election, according to the Chicago and Midwest Joint Board of national labor union Workers United.

“We are so proud to be the first union Starbucks in Wisconsin and hope even more stores will follow in our footsteps,” said Hannah Fogarty, a barista and organizer at the Oak Creek location. “Workers United has been incredibly supportive; any store hoping to organize should look no further. Working with them on this national movement has been exciting, and we have no doubt that they will help us negotiate a contract that reflects our values.”

Inspired by successful union campaigns by Starbucks employees in Buffalo, New York, Fogarty reached out to Workers United in early January and began rallying her co-workers. In February, 16 of the 30 workers at the Oak Creek cafe signed a letter to the store’s manager as well as Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’ outgoing chief executive officer, demanding that the company voluntarily and willingly acknowledge their union. The company declined, so the group filed for an election with the NLRB.

As organizing efforts have gained momentum, Starbucks has stood strong in its stance against unions but has said it respects employees’ right to organize and will bargain in good faith.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country. From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process,” Starbucks said Thursday in a statement.

The news of the local union victory comes on the heels of a 14-1 union vote by Starbucks workers at a store in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a 17-4 union vote at a store in Cary, Illinois. 

Starbucks’ Oak Creek baristas are not the first group of local service sector employees to make a union push.

Workers at Milwaukee-based Colectivo Coffee Roasters voted to unionize last summer and was finally granted union representation through the NLRB in March. 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 Organization.

MASH is also working with a group of Pabst Theater Group employees who are pushing to unionize. PTG management recently denied the group’s request for recognition of their union, which was backed by signed union authorization and membership cards from 80% of employees in the proposed bargaining unit. As a result, the group will need to file for an election with the NLRB. 

“We feel that the best way to determine whether a majority of employees desire to be represented by the union is through a free and fair secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board in accordance with the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act,” PTG said in a statement. “Our company has a long history of working with unions and we are committed to honoring the results of an election certified by the NLRB.”

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Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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