In ballots from elections at three Buffalo-area stores counted Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board, the first store’s vote was 19-8 in favor of unionization. The second store’s vote was 12-8 against forming a union, while voter-eligibility disputes left the third store in limbo.
This marks a potential watershed for a labor movement that in recent decades has rarely prevailed in such elections at the biggest U.S. companies. It could inspire a flurry of new organizing efforts including 50 to 100 more Starbucks shops potentially pursuing their own votes at once, said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
“When and if that happens, it will be much more difficult for Starbucks and its anti-union law firms to scurry about the country suppressing these insurrections,” Lichtenstein said via email.
Workers at the three shops petitioned in August to join the Service Employees International Union affiliate Workers United, which has more recently filed for elections at three more New York sites and another in Arizona.
“Since we’ve become public with our campaign, we’ve received countless messages from partners all over the country from different stores that are interested in unionizing,” employee Alexis Rizzo said at a union press conference following the vote. “I don’t think it will stop in Buffalo.”
The third store voted 15-9 in favor of unionizing but seven ballots weren’t opened due to disagreements about whether the voters were eligible employees of that store. An acting regional labor board director will consider arguments from both sides in coming weeks. In addition, the union’s attorney, Ian Hayes, said the group plans to file objections about the vote count at the second store.
Shares of Seattle-based Starbucks fell 0.8% on Thursday.
The union’s win at the first store is no guarantee of an actual contract with Starbucks. Under U.S. labor law, management is required to hold contract talks “in good faith” once workers vote to unionize but there’s no obligation to concede on the issues workers want addressed.
Richard Bensinger, the former AFL-CIO organizing director spearheading the push in Buffalo, said the union will focus now on securing a contract with Starbucks in New York that could send an inspiring signal to workers elsewhere.
The company had sought to derail the elections, arguing that any vote should involve at least all 20 of the region’s stores. Starbucks also pleaded unsuccessfully with the NLRB to quash the mailing of ballots last month. Former Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz
In a labor board complaint filed last month, the union alleged that Starbucks management has responded to organizing efforts “by engaging in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance” and other illegal activity. The company has said that it strictly complies with labor laws.
“Starbucks is going to have a challenge with its brand,” said Rebecca Givan, professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University. “Potential employees and customers will view it as fiercely anti-union and anti-worker in the same category as Walmart and Amazon.”
(Adds third store’s vote in seventh paragraph, company comment in eighth.)
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