A group of Starbucks workers from three stores in Buffalo, New York, is trying to form the coffee chain’s first union, called Starbucks Workers United. It’s the latest organizing move in the food and beverage industry, which has seen more efforts in that direction in the last few years, including at Anchor Brewing Company, Voodoo Doughnut and more.
William Westlake has been a barista for four years. And he’s experienced a trend.
“We are just underpaid, overworked. We’re asked to work more hours. If somebody ever calls out we are picking up for other people,” he said.
Westlake is one of Starbucks Workers United’s organizers. He says unionizing at a company as prominent as Starbucks could help change the industry. And that now is their best chance.
“The pandemic is definitely a part of why people feel comfortable now, whereas before there just would have been too much fear of retaliation,” he said.
“You know, if that happens though right now, everybody knows they can get another job really quickly,” said Ruth Milkman, who researches labor movements at CUNY. She said the instability of restaurant work keeps organizing rates low – at about 3.5% last year – compared to the national overall rate of nearly 11%. But the labor shortage, plus campaigns like Fight for 15, have inspired young workers.
“And there’s a kind of union fever phenomenon in that generation,” she said.
In an email, Starbucks said it will continue to empower its workers to constructively use their voices. Starbucks Workers United has proposed a vote in two weeks.
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