Hoping to further the struggle of American workers, Employees of a Starbucks coffee shop in Buffalo, New York, voted to create the first union in its 50-year history of the coffee giant. The results were announced last Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a state body that called a vote by mail after accepting the request of the waiters of this and two other locations to associate under the umbrella of the International Union of Employees of Services (SEIU). The success of Starbucks workers is especially striking in the United States, given the low level of union membership in the private sector: solo 6.3 percent of workers are unionized, Y in coffee shops and restaurants the level of affiliation barely reaches 1.2 percent of the workforce.
The current context, however, seems favorable since thousands of workers in different parts of the country are joining strikes for better wages and working conditions, or even to promote union membership. They also have the support of representatives of the most left wing of the Democratic Party, such as Bernie Sanders The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Starbucks’ failed offense
Of the 27 workers From the Starbucks store on Elmwood Avenue 19 voted in favor of unionization. Workers at a second location in the vicinity of Hamburg municipality voted 12 to 8 against joining the union. Voting at a third store in Cheektowaga, another Buffalo suburb, ended 9/15 in favor of unionizing although there were seven contested ballots, so the result of the vote remains in limbo pending a review by the NLRB. “I think these results will set a trend in which other employees will find they have a method to force their employers to listen to their voices and concerns at work“he assured Cathy Creighton, Director of Labor and Industrial Relations at Cornell University, in dialogue with Page I12.
The Starbucks address It did not take long for her to hide her disgust at the results and threatened with the alleged “negative effects” that will fall on the company. “If a significant portion of our employees were to unionize, our labor costs could increase and our business could be adversely affected by other requirements and expectations that could change the culture of our employees, decrease our flexibility and disrupt our business,” the company assured. through a statement.
Creighton remarked that Starbucks could sit down with its workers and negotiate a “mutually acceptable” agreement for both parties. “However, Starbucks says it will continue as usual, suggesting that it will not accept the workers’ decision to have workplace democracy. The employer may refuse to negotiate, triggering a chain of litigation that could last up to five years. During that time Starbucks expects employees to lose interest, resign or move on with their lives, “warned the union lawyer.
The international chain had gone to great lengths to persuade staff to vote against unionization, in a strategy that included the dispatch senior executives to their Buffalo stores. Workers described a series of intimidating actions, from anti-union text messages and emails to weekly meetings with management to warn that workers could lose their benefits or grow within the company.
Ruth Milkman, a labor sociologist at the City University of New York, said that what was seen in Buffalo is “a reflection of the growing interest among young university-educated workers in labor organization”. Yet Milkman believes that Starbucks will continue to resist unionization, in Buffalo and elsewhere. “They can offer unilateral improvements in pay and maybe even in working conditions, but that is different from agreeing to formally share power and sign a collective bargaining agreement,” he warned this newspaper.
“This is a historic moment”
The ravages caused by the covid-19 pandemic were the trigger that pushed these service sector workers to demand job improvements and to initiate unionization processes. “This is a historic moment,” said Michelle Eisen, an 11-year barista at the Elmwood store. Casey Moore, another of the young women who led the fight, said that of the 20 coworkers, only five are men. “I think it is very empowering to see other women lead this fight. It is truly exciting,” said Moore brimming with energy at 25.
In the face of Starbucks’ titanic efforts to abort the vote, the more progressive sector of the Democratic Party has sided with the workers. One of the last to do so was the former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who held a virtual meeting with several employees in which he stressed that “Young workers are fighting back against an economy that only works for the rich”. And Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had met with organizers from the Starbucks union in Buffalo last month, wrote after the results were released: “Nothing like the smell of union coffee in the morning”.
Unionization in the United States
One fifth of workers in the Buffalo area, a region with a strong history of organized labor, belongs to a union, according to Cornell University: the number far exceeds the national average. Despite the failed attempt to unionize Amazon workers in Alabama, support for unions has risen to a 50-year high according to a Gallup poll in August that showed that 68 percent of Americans approve of unions.
Calls to strike against poor working conditions have paralyzed work in a significant number of companies in recent months, including the multinational company Kellogg’s, the tractor manufacturer John Deere or the fast food chain McDonald’s. “Public support for the unions is growing and Biden is more likeable than any president in recent history, but the reality on the ground is that it is very difficult to win, since the management has a very big advantage,” Milkman added. .
For his part, Craighton warns that to attack the bottom of the problem it is necessary to curb income inequality, and asks: “Why should the CEO of Starbucks win a $ 20 million bonus for keeping stores open during a pandemic , while workers run the risk of getting sick and dying? “