When I first spoke to three Starbucks workers organizing a union at a Raleigh Starbucks, located at Wake Forest and Six Forks Road, they were confident that unionization was a sure thing. This was February: solidarity was high among fellow workers, they said, and this location was the first in the state to file and full of youthful energy. Customers were beginning to rally around them. 

There’s been good outside reason for optimism, too: Since three Buffalo Starbucks stores filed to unionize in August, more than 240 stores have taken steps to unionize and more than fifty have won union votes, including several just this week. Its campaign union certification rate is currently topping off at 85 percent.

One of those fifty stores to certify a union vote last week was in Boone, with a landslide victory of 33-2—it became the first Starbucks in North Carolina to unionize

Yesterday’s vote count from the Raleigh store, however, pointed to the uphill battles faced in unionization efforts. According to Chris Baumann, Workers United Southern Region Director (an affiliate of SEIU), the final tally was 5 votes yes, 7 votes no.

Organizer Alyssa White says votes were counted from 15 partners (the Starbucks term for employees) out of a voting list of 29. Starbucks challenged three additional ballots, all of whom were actively organizing employees, which were received but not counted: Starbucks alleges that two of the votes are from non-employees (organizers contest that the employees were on the schedule as of last week) and that one ballot was received past deadline. 

Workers, also, are challenging a vote from an assistant store manager. (Whether or not assistant store managers are allowed to vote has been a nationally contested issue.) In addition to those 15 ballots, workers say that at least 4 additional ballots, all from members of the union organizing committee, were mailed but did not reach the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in time for the deadline. (Two of the ballots not received nor counted were from Paola Cira and Alyssa White, who spearheaded the union efforts; White told the INDY that their ballots were mailed before other ballots that were counted.)

The INDY reached out to the NLRB to get an exact timeline of when ballots were received but has not heard back. 

The results are a “tough lesson on process,” Baumann wrote over text. 

They’re also a tough lesson on Starbucks’ process, and how the most organized stores can come under the most heat. While there have been plenty of victories for organizers to celebrate, the coffee giant is still coming down hard, in both micro and macro ways. In April, the INDY broke the story of Sharon Gilman, a 20-year-old worker—and vocal union advocate—at the Wake Forest and Six Forks Road location who was fired, just days before ballots were mailed, for allegedly breaking a sink. The SEIU filed charges against NLRB and requested that Gilman be reinstated to her job, but Baumann says there are no updates to her case yet. 

On Tuesday, another blow came when the corporation announced that it was raising pay at locations around the country—but only in stores that were not unionizing or unionized. Workers United has filed charges with the NLRB against Starbucks, accusing the company of using coercive methods against workers. 

In February, six Raleigh Starbucks employees signed the letter announcing their intent to unionize. Strikingly, after the votes were tallied yesterday, only 2 of those employees’ votes were counted: the others were either challenged or not received entirely. 

Organizers, though, say the election is being challenged, and it’s not over yet: “We look forward to discovering the final results of our election,” a statement on Instagram reads, “and thank our community for their support.”

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Follow Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to sedwards@indyweek.com.