Employees serve customers at a newly opened Starbucks’ Reserve Roasteries in the Meatpacking District on December 14, 2018 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Starbucks baristas at the New York City Reserve Roastery voted 46-36 to form a union on Friday, giving incoming interim CEO Howard Schultz a blow that may be more personal.
The Reserve Roastery is the ninth company-owned Starbucks affiliated. On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board voted in favor of a cafe in Knoxville, but a challenged vote made the results of that effort uncertain. The union won by a single vote. Last week, a cafe in Starbucks’ hometown of Seattle and another location in Mesa, Arizona, also voted to unite.
To date, only one venue has held an election and voted against a union under Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The union, however, drew a petition calling for a union election for Roastery factory workers, who were due to cast their ballots on Thursday.
Friday’s victory for Starbucks Workers United represents more than just another place in the growing number of unionized cafes. Starbucks opened the nearly 23,000-square-foot cafe in Manhattan’s meat parcel district in December 2018, while CEO Kevin Johnson’s tenure. But the luxury store and others like it were actually conceived by former CEO Schultz, who will take over the top job on Monday on a temporary basis when Johnson retires.
“I am proud of the culmination of our efforts to make our workplaces more democratic and fair. Community is a value that is close to my heart and I am grateful and happy to show solidarity with my peers,” he said. Ley Kido. “Starbucks partner for 9 years.
The reserve restaurants in cities like Seattle, Shanghai and Milan were to be immersive, exclusive coffee experiences to attract both tourists and city dwellers. Schultz wanted to open several dozen of them, but Johnson said in 2019 that the company would screw down on these ambitious plans. The last one opened was launched in Chicago that year.
Friday’s vote at the New York City Roastery was the first election for Starbucks to be conducted in person, rather than by postal ballot.
]People are leaving a newly opened Starbucks’ Reserve Roasteries in the Meatpacking District on December 14, 2018 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Starbucks’ growing union advancement will be among the challenges Schultz faces as he takes on the role of CEO again. During his previous tenure as CEO of the coffee chain, Starbucks gained a reputation as a generous and progressive employer, an image that is now in jeopardy as the union picks up speed and workers share their complaints.
The chain is far from the only company that sees setbacks in terms of wages and working conditions in the form of union representation. Earlier on Friday, Amazon workers voted at a Staten Island warehouse to become the e-commerce giant’s first union-organized facility. And in March, REI Co-op employees in the Manhattan flagship store voted to form the company’s first union in the United States
The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Starbucks earlier in March for allegedly retaliating against two Phoenix employees who tried to organize. The union has also claimed that Starbucks was involved in union breaches across many of its stores that have run for election. The company has denied these allegations.
Early union victories in Buffalo have caused other Starbucks locations nationwide to organize. More than 150 company-owned cafes have applied for union election to the National Labor Relations Board, including elsewhere in New York City. Workers at the Astor Place cafe in Manhattan are starting to cast their vote on Friday for their postal election.
However, that’s still only a small fraction of Starbucks’ total footprint. The company operates nearly 9,000 locations in the United States
The NLRB’s regional director must now certify the ballot papers, a process that can take up to a week. Then the union faces its next real challenge: negotiating a contract with Starbucks. Labor law does not require the employer and the union to enter into a collective agreement, and contract discussions can drag on for years.
At Starbucks’ annual shareholders’ meeting several weeks ago, chairman Mellody Hobson said the company understands and recognizes its workers’ right to organize.
“We are also negotiating in good faith and we want a constructive relationship with the union,” she said.
She said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” earlier that day that Starbucks “made some mistakes” when asked about the union’s push.