Starbucks Workers Have Unionized in 171 Stores Nationwide
Nearly 2% of Starbucks corporate-owned stores have formed unions in less than a year.
In December 2021, workers voted to form a union, becoming the first corporate owned Starbucks in the United States to do so. After the Buffalo, New York election, workers at hundreds of other stores across the country announced the intent to unionize. Now, a little more than six months later, 171 stores in 30 states have voted to form a union.
The effort has been met with resistance from Starbucks executives. Reports of illegal union busting tactics have been covered in the press. The National Labor Review Board has requested a federal court to order Starbucks to stop using illegal tactics to prevent unions from forming. In a statement to CBS News, Starbucks has thoroughly denied the allegations. “As we have said previously, we believe these claims are false and will be prepared to defend our case," a Starbucks spokesperson said.
But with 300 stores still planning on hosting union elections, it doesn't seem like the workers are dissuaded from continued organizing. Starbucks owns and operates nearly 10,000 stores in the US, according to CBS News. The 171 stores that have unionized already account for roughly 1.71% of the total number of stores. That doesn't sound like much, and purely from a numerical perspective, it's not, but labor experts view it as a significant number.
"The Starbucks workers and Workers United and others are like, forget this, we're just going to go place by place till we get there," Erica Smiley explained in an interview with Thrillist. Smiley is the Executive Director at Jobs for Justice, a longtime movement leader and organizer, and the co-author of the book The Future We Need. "It is true, [the total number of unionized stores] may not seem like a lot, but it's a lot for a company that has a critical mass."
Years ago, Smiley was one of the many people who tried to organize workers at Walmart, a company that had roughly 1.4 million employees. Organizing a million people might not be feasible, but that wasn't the objective. "We were like, 'if we can just get 1% [of the workers], the company will freak out."
Starbucks workers' push for unionizing the workplace is not happening in a vacuum. Workers at other major retailers like Amazon, Target, Trader Joe's, and Chipotle have all announced intent to form unions at locations all over the country. And while labor struggles for worker rights have been happening in this country for at least the last 150 years (and arguably much longer), this particular moment feels important.
"There is a new recognition that is fairly widespread. People are recognizing from the pandemic that the work they do is essential, and they should be paid for that work," Smiley continued. "I should be able to live, I should be able to work to live and not just live to work."
Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.