Buoyed by efforts across the country, baristas at a Raleigh Starbucks filed a petition earlier today with the National Labor Relations Board to organize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The organizing Starbucks is located at 2901 Sherman Oak Place in Raleigh.
“I’m unionizing because I want to be treated as a human being and not a robot,” Sharon Gilman, a Starbucks partner at the Raleigh store, wrote in a press release. “I want my health and well-being to be put before store operations, and I want my fellow partners to have a positive work environment where we all feel appreciated for our hard work.”
In late August, workers at three Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, announced in a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson that they were forming a union called Starbucks Workers United, writing in the letter, “We do not see our desire to organize as a reaction to specific policies but as a commitment to making Starbucks, Buffalo, and the world a better place.”
Still, workers at Starbucks have complained for years about the company’s labor practices, and though the corporate coffee giant has professed to the New York Times that it is not “anti-union” but rather “pro-partner,” it has fired employees attempting to unionize in the past.
In early January, the NLRB announced that the union had won an election at two of the three Buffalo stores; the union effort failed at a third store. The Buffalo locations are the first two stores among the corporation’s roughly 9,000 company-operated stores nationwide to be unionized.
In a text message to the INDY, Alyssa Watkins, another partner at the Raleigh Starbucks, said that the baristas at the location do not have a specific union vote date in mind.
“We’re just hoping to have it as soon as possible without corporate’s anti-union interference,” wrote Watkins, who has worked at the Raleigh location since August and been a partner at Starbucks for four years. “Corporate will most likely follow the pattern they have established at other stores and hire a bunch of partners in an effort to dilute our vote—we won’t be intimidated by this, but we would still appreciate if we could have our vote sooner rather than later. Our demand is for corporate to sign and adhere to the Fair Election Principles.”
Watkins says that the Raleigh store has an “overwhelming majority of partners at our store who would like to unionize” but that they are afraid of corporate “retaliating the way they did in Memphis”—a reference to seven Starbucks employees in Memphis, Tennessee, who gave a television interview stating their intent to organize. (A Starbucks spokesperson has said the firings were unrelated to organizing efforts.)
“I feel as if our needs are consistently being neglected by corporate and this is the only option left for our voices to be heard,” Elsa Engelbrecht, a partner at the Raleigh location organizing, said in the press release.
The store is one of 87 stores in 25 states to file a petition to join Workers United.
“Corporate will most likely follow the pattern they have established at other stores and hire a bunch of partners in an effort to dilute our vote—we won’t be intimidated by this, but we would still appreciate if we could have our vote sooner rather than later,” Watkins told the INDY. “Our demand is for corporate to sign and adhere to the Fair Election Principles.”
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