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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Workers at two Illinois Starbucks stores vote to unionize on same day

The coffee shops in Peoria and Cary are the first unionized Starbucks locations in the Prairie State.

CHICAGO (CN) — Employees at two Starbucks locations in suburban Illinois voted to approve union representation early Tuesday afternoon, becoming the first unionized Starbucks cafes in the state.

The two locations - one in Peoria and the other in Cary - announced their union wins within an hour of each other, having both held union votes through Monday. The workers in Peoria approved unionization by a 9-2 vote, while union advocates in Cary saw a landslide 17-4 victory.

“This is a win for the store, and really every partner that works for Starbucks. There is still a long road ahead but we look forward to working with corporate as partners in making Starbucks the best employer for essential workers,” the Cary workers said in a statement released around 11:40 a.m.

The Peoria employees echoed the sentiment in their own statement only 40 minutes later, once the union organizing committee there announced the win around 12: 20 p.m.

"Our victory here in Peoria is a product of the incredible organizing that Starbucks workers have done across the country. We stand in solidarity with every Starbucks worker and any worker fighting for a better world," the Peoria organizing committee said.

The newly unionized employees will be represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The union did not immediately return a request for comment.

Seven other Starbucks locations in Illinois, including six in Chicago, have also filed for a union vote. They are part of a larger, nationwide wave of Starbucks unionizations that began when a location in Buffalo, New York, voted in December 2021 to become the first unionized Starbucks café in the U.S.

Starbucks' corporate leadership, particularly the Seattle-based company's current interim CEO Howard Schultz, has come under fire by labor rights groups and sympathizers since then. Employees and labor organizations alike have accused the company of engaging in union-busting practices meant to discourage workers from organizing, such as firing employees known to have union sympathies over minor infractions. The National Labor Relations Board has corroborated these accusations on several occasions.

In June 2021, the NLRB found the corporation guilty of firing two Philadelphia baristas in retaliation for their attempt to unionize their shop. The board also filed a complaint against Starbucks earlier this month, alleging it had retaliated against three workers in Arizona over their legal efforts to organize a union at their workplace.

"Among other things, Starbucks disciplined, suspended, and discharged one employee, constructively discharged another, and placed a third on an unpaid leave of absence after revoking recently granted accommodations," an NLRB statement on the Arizona allegations read.

In response to these and other complaints - such as Schultz telling management-level employees that Starbucks was “being assaulted... by the threat of unionization” in a leaked training conference video, and asking a pro-union storefront employee to "go somewhere else" in another - Workers United has demanded Schultz sign a noninterference agreement stating that the company will not try to disrupt ongoing unionization efforts.

The document lists several demands the union has for Schultz and Starbucks. These include a promise that management will not make any implicit or explicit threats against employee organizers, and an agreement that for any anti-union information meeting the company requires employees to attend, the union "may hold a meeting of equal length on company time."

"Starbucks says that they support partners’ right to unionize. That is a good thing, but these words must be put into action... If Starbucks believes in supporting the rights of its partners, it must recognize that it is not up to corporate to decide whether unions are necessary, but rather up to us, the Starbucks partners," a statement accompanying the proposed noninterference agreement says.

Schultz returned as Starbucks' interim chief executive earlier this month, replacing former CEO Kevin Johnson. Though he stepped down in June 2018 while considering an independent run for president, he announced his intent to return in March as the nationwide Starbucks union drive began gathering steam. Schultz has personally denied being anti-union, but has a history of opposing union actions in U.S. Starbucks locations stretching back to the 1980s. In his 2012 memoir "Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time," he wrote that he believed unions were unnecessary provided he lead Starbucks well enough.

“I was convinced that under my leadership, employees would come to realize that I would listen to their concerns. If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union,” Schultz wrote.

The company at large has also publicly expressed a desire to keep unions out of its cafes.

"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," a corporate spokesperson for Starbucks said Tuesday afternoon.

The spokesperson also said the company would not commit to any demands, like the noninterference agreement, outside the bargaining table. Whatever agreement the company does come to with the union, he said, "We'll show up to the bargaining table and hammer it out collaboratively."

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Categories / Business, Employment, Regional

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