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One Down, 8,952 Starbucks to Go: Buffalo Baristas Make Unionizing History

Starbucks workers at a store in Buffalo, New York voted in favor of a union today, making them the first Starbucks workers to unionize in the United States. Two other stores in Buffalo are in the process of counting their votes.

Left Voice

December 9, 2021
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MICHAEL SANABRIA

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The votes are in: Starbucks workers at at least one store in Buffalo, New York have voted to form a union. Around 111 eligible workers from three stores in the Buffalo area have cast their votes to decide whether to form a bargaining unit with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 

The three stores in Buffalo filed for their elections back in August, following in the footsteps of their Canadian coworkers at a Starbucks location in Victoria, British Columbia, who ratified their first contract in July, and Chilean Starbucks workers who have been organizing, with the IWW, since 2009. The Buffalo workers at the Elmwood location, the first workplace to have its votes counted, are the first Starbucks employees in the United States to unionize, paving the way for their coworkers at 8,000 other Starbucks locations in the United States. A second Buffalo location, the Camp Road store, voted to reject unionization. The third, at Cheektowaga, voted 13-9 against the union effort, but several of those ballots are being challenged by Workers United and the final result will not be available until an NLRB ruling at a later date. Already, three more stores in Buffalo and one store in Mesa, Arizona have filed for elections of their own. 

The Buffalo workers are unionizing in order to have a say over their working conditions, citing understaffing, pitiful wages, a lack of sick days (in the midst of a global pandemic), and difficult hours. Since August, the Starbucks workers in Buffalo have endured endless union-busting tactics, including threats, intimidation, and surveillance in response to their unionization efforts. Starbucks executives pulled out all the stops to attempt to make the workers change their minds, including sending upper-level management (like the COO, John Culver) into the stores to deliver anti-union presentations, watch over the workers, and in the case of former CEO Howard Schultz, give a speech comparing Starbucks workers to Holocaust victims who needed to “share” in order to survive. The company, likely in an attempt to mollify agitated workers in Buffalo and around the country and encourage them not to fight for their right to collective bargaining, announced they would raise minimum pay across the country to $15 an hour (and up to $23). No mention, of course, has been made of the fact that most of the Starbucks workers voting to unionize make under $25,000 annually, while Starbucks President Kevin Johnson made $14.7 million in salary and stock last year alone. 

As millions of workers quit their jobs around the country and thousands of workers remain on strike, it is clear that the working class is increasingly fed up with attacks on working conditions and low wages. The unionization vote in Buffalo is an encouraging example of how the working class can fight back, organized and unified, to demand what they deserve.

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.

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