On Friday, July 29, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) tallied the votes from the Starbucks store at Mockingbird Station in Dallas. Of the nine eligible employees who voted, all were in favor of unionization, making the vote a slam-dunk win for the burgeoning Starbucks Workers United movement.
The wave of Starbucks workers unionizing, which is growing across the country, started with a store in Buffalo, New York, in December 2021. Since then, 316 stores have filed paperwork with the NLRB, an independent federal agency that enforces labor law as it relates to collective bargaining. Of those stores, 207 elected to become unionized and 44 have voted not to unionize.
Michael Green is a law professor and the director of the Workplace Law Program at Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth. He says the pandemic changed the workplace.
“If you look at during the pandemic, we had these new terms that people had never heard of like ‘essential workers.’ So, then we’re trying to understand who are essential workers and what does that mean for those individuals who were essential workers? What were their rights and their abilities to say, ‘We need more rights or safety protections’?” Green says.
He points out that organizations that were already unionized and organized were able to have their unions speak for them in a collective voice, “and places where they weren’t organized, they were just fending for themselves.”
Locally, Nikita Russell has spearheaded the effort to unionize at the Mockingbird Station Starbucks.
“It is unconscionable that a multi-billion dollar company cannot take care of the people who generate their wealth,” Russell says. Starbucks reported a record $7.6 billion in consolidated net revenues for the second quarter of 2022.
— SBWU Mockingbird Station (@sbwumbs) July 29, 2022
She also points out that Starbucks has always practiced lean staffing, meaning a store is staffed with as few people as possible during any given shift. But during the pandemic, she says, the company realized how much they could do with so little, and they never walked backed from that.
Russell says another factor driving the decision to unionize was that Starbucks employees in Dallas-area stores got a raise in January, but a month or two later their hours were cut.
“So, we have no say. We generate that wealth and we have no say in what happens,” Russell says.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is leading the effort to stymie the flood of unionizing stores. The company has started by excluding unionized stores from raises, asserting that once a store is unionized the company is not allowed to change benefits at the store. It’s a stance that is challenged by Starbucks United.
The NLRB has already asked a federal court to order Starbucks to stop interfering with unionization efforts in Buffalo.
When asked why not just go get another job, Russell says, “This is getting a better job.
“And it also for the long term. Even if I walked away right now, the reason we’re doing this is to leave something better behind for people that come after us. Making it so that other workers don’t get abused and exploited.”
Asked if unions could be part of the post-pandemic workplace, Green says it’s possible: “We’re going to see that more, with as many folks who have left the workforce and the fact that these businesses need people to work, (…) if you’re a business, you do have to be concerned about it.”