Starbucks employees in Buffalo celebrated their win at union elections on Thursday.
Source: Associated Press

On Thursday, Starbucks employees in Buffalo let loose with joy after a day of work. winning a hard-fought electionTo form the first union at a Starbucks corporate store in the United States.

Jaz Brishack, who was both a worker at the unionized site and an advocate for the union, did not believe that it was over.

“Our fight isn’t over until we get a contract,” the 24-year-old declared in a press conference after the win.

This election is only the beginning of a long and difficult struggle between Starbucks Workers United, the new union, Starbucks Workers United, as well as the largest coffee chain worldwide. Workers at Buffalo’s Elmwood Avenue store have earned their seat at the table with the company, but they won’t reap all the benefits of unionization until they secure a first collective bargaining agreement.

Starbucks employees at another Buffalo-area location rejected the union. The results at the third store, however, were not conclusive. However, the total was favoring another win for union members.

It can be difficult to finalize a contract for the first time. This is due in part to companies’ tendency of dragging out negotiations, hoping that union support will decrease over time. Starbucks is home to approximately 9,000 U.S.-based corporate stores. 220,000 workersThey are. The union is now established and the company has little incentive to give Buffalo workers attractive deals that would encourage others to join the union.

Most employers in Starbucks’ position would rather send a message to employees that a union gains nothing and organizing is futile; they want to reach a contract with only weak gains for the workers or, ideally, no contract at all. The companies that are most determined react to unionization in one or two stores simply by shutting those locations downThis led to a legal battle over closures.

‘There Are Many Ways To Be Unreasonable’

Such a move could lead to scandal for a high-profile company like Starbucks. Experts suggested that a less controversial strategy would be to hold off on negotiations, negotiate in bad faith, or bargain very little, in the hope of attracting union members over time.

“One of the reasons that employers resist the first contract is there is nothing to force them to bargain. There are no penalties,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School. “The worst that’s going to happen is there is going be a letter [from the labor board]Tell them to negotiate. There’s nothing to lose by just not cooperating.”

Bronfenbrenner’s research has shown that some employers spend years slow-walking a first contract. This is A paper she published in 2009 found that just under half of successful union campaigns resulted in a first contract within a year, and in a quarter of cases, workers still didn’t have one after three years.

Bloomberg Law’s most recent analysis showed that the average was. 409 daysBetween a union becoming certified and the first contract being awarded.

“One of the reasons that employers resist the first contract is there is nothing to force them to bargain.”

– Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell

Starbucks could choose to contest the results of the elections before negotiating with the union. According to the company, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the proposed bargaining unit did not reflect the needs of the region and included every location in Buffalo. That effort, which did not succeed, would have diluted the union’s support and forced it to do far more organizing. Starbucks is free to keep making the case for its union post-election, and could even bring it before a federal court to challenge the outcome.

Starbucks representatives declined to confirm whether they would challenge the election results or how the company would negotiate. Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks North America, who was a steady presence in Buffalo throughout the campaign, said in a letter to employees Wednesday that “these are preliminary results with no immediate changes to our partner relationship as the NLRB process continues.”

Gene Bruskin, a long-standing labor organizer said that he expected Starbucks to challenge the election — even if it was to purchase more time.

“After that, I think they really have no choice except to bargain in bad faith, and stretch out the meetings. There are many ways to be unreasonable,” Bruskin said.

Starbucks Workers United members meet at their office in Buffalo, New York, on Dec. 7.
Starbucks Workers United members met at their Buffalo office on December 7.
Lindsay DeDario via Reuters

Some companies manage to drag out bargaining long enough to start a viable decertification campaign ― that’s when workers petition for an election to remove the union as their bargaining representative. In fact, in Howard Schultz’s book “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time,” the longtime Starbucks CEO wrote approvingly of how workers in the company’s early days decertified the unionTheir roastery, as well as a few cafes.

Dave Schmitz was the head of organizing for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1001 during that time. told HuffPost in 2019 that the company was fierce at the bargaining table, trying to reduce workers’ health benefits and strip out their right to “just cause,” a standard provision in union contracts that protects workers from arbitrary firings.

A Contract As A ‘Blueprint’

Bruskin explained that there are many possibilities and that it is important that workers see the contract battle as an escalation to the fight that has begun.

There are many baristas that leave the company, but the union expects its shop-floor leaders will stay for the long run. Michelle Eisen is one of the most prominent faces of the campaign. She has been with Starbucks for over 11 years.

The union will need to continue organizing stores and building public and political support. It also needs to expand its campaign as it indicated that it would. If it ends up with just one or two stores duking it out with the company for a contract, it’s far less likely that the workers would be able to secure meaningful gains.

“I think they really have no choice except to bargain in bad faith.”

Gene Bruskin is a labor organizer for Starbucks

Although the NLRB still hasn’t scheduled votes, the union filed three additional elections in Buffalo and Mesa. The unionization of more stores could allow workers to work together in the fight for a contract, job action and possibly even strike. They might try to make Western New York an area where Starbucks workers can unite and build networks.

Eisen said Thursday that her aspiration was not to unionize every Starbucks under the sun, or a majority of those in the U.S. “The success of this campaign, for me, will be getting a fair contract that any store that chooses to unionize can then utilize and use as a blueprint,” she said.

Workers United is an affiliate to the 2,000,000-member Service Employees International Union. The Starbucks union is part Workers United. Workers United is a complex organization with a long history, but its origins can be traced back to the hard-organizing campaigns of the textile industry. It recently unionizedCanada Goose Clothing is a major Canadian supplier.

Richard Bensinger is a former AFL-CIO organizing director and has advised Starbucks employees on how to campaign. Bensinger didn’t attempt to foresee how Starbucks will approach negotiations in the event of a union win, but he did have a brief chat with workers a few days ahead. He held out hope ― or at least pretended to ― that Starbucks would willingly bargain a solid contract.

“I’m optimistic that at the end of this Starbucks will listen to its partners if they vote for it, but who knows,” Bensinger said. “I really wouldn’t guess either way. But the partners will have huge, huge, huge public support ― in Buffalo and all around the country.”

Bronfenbrenner stated that she did not believe Workers United would shrink in the next contract fight.

“The people working on this have had really tough fights,” she said. “They know what they’re doing and they’re not going to back away. They’re taking on the corporation nationally.”


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