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Starbucks resumes bargaining amid fresh wave of unionized stores

<span>Starbucks Workers United union members and supporters take a group photo outside a Starbucks location in Seattle, Washington last year.</span><span>Photograph: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images</span>
Starbucks Workers United union members and supporters take a group photo outside a Starbucks location in Seattle, Washington last year.Photograph: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Starbucks has resumed bargaining with union leaders amid a fresh wave of organized stores after the world’s largest coffee chain agreed to open talks over labor agreements.

After a long, embittered campaign, the Seattle-based coffee giant jointly announced a new framework with Workers United in February to reach contracts with unionized stores.

Bargaining got under way in Atlanta on Wednesday, and is due to continue on Thursday.

Since baristas in Buffalo successfully formed the first unionized US Starbucks store in December 2021, an organizing drive by Starbucks Workers United has spreadnationwide, to more than 425 Starbucks stores in 43 states, representing over 10,500 workers.

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That extraordinary growth came in spite of strong opposition from Starbucks managers, who retained union avoidance law firm Littler Mendelson to representthe firm as hundreds of unfair labor practice charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board by workers, alleging retaliation, intimidation and harassment.

Starbucks has consistently denied violating labor laws. But the sheer volume of charges, rulings against them by administrative law judges and the labor board, and accounts from workers themselves detailing their experiences, has bolstered its reputation as an aggressive union buster.

As the union campaign showed no signs of dissipating, February’s framework announcement was hailed as a victory by the union, and prompted a wave of Starbucks stores filing for union elections, where workers were no longer subjected to managers and corporate urging them to vote against unionizing.

“It was also a lesson that you can’t rely on the law alone,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “All the unfair labor practices that were filed … the fact is that Starbucks came to the table because the union did a comprehensive campaign, talked to investors, held red-cup days and did much more than just file unfair labor practices.”

According to unionelections.org, Starbucks stores have seen the large influx of union election filings since early 2022, when the organizing campaign initially spread after that first union win in Buffalo, reaching 200 unionized stores by summer 2022, and 300 stores by May last year.

On 11 March, the campaign reached its 400th unionized store with a win in Miami. The number of Starbucks stores has now climbed to 438 stores and counting, with nine stores voting to unionize the week of 13 May alone.

Silas Sterling has worked as a barista for over a year at a Starbucks store in Santa Clarita, California, one of several stores that voted to unionize this month.

The new framework “made me really happy to see,” they said. “The whole point of the union is to make positive changes within the company, so I think the company deciding to work together with the union is a great sign of progress.”

Sterling cited fair scheduling and improved staffing as key sticking points for them and their co-workers in a first union contract with Starbucks – and expressed hope that “positive changes” are on the way.

A total of 430 Starbucks workers representing unionized stores are participating in this week’sbargaining sessions, and want to reach agreements on wages, scheduling, staffing, health and safety issues, and improving access to healthcare for workers.

A spokesperson for Starbucks said: “Starbucks and Workers United remain committed to building a positive, productive relationship. We respect our partners’ rights to organize and on progressing negotiations towards ratified store contracts this year.”

The chain anticipates making “further progress on the framework intended to be the foundation of each single-store contract,” the spokesperson added.

Rachel Williams, a barista for six years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was skeptical initially after Starbucks made the joint announcement with the union about the new framework. She is now is “cautiously optimistic,” thanks to progress made in bargaining sessions so far.

. Williams and her coworkers unionized earlier this year. After losing shift lead supervisors in their store, they had still been expected to do the same work without them.

“Us workers, the baristas, the shift supervisors, we are Starbucks. Starbucks calls us partners, so treat us like partners,” said Williams. “We believe in Starbucks. We love our jobs. We love coming to work. We’re grateful for the benefits Starbucks has given us, and the reason why we’re doing this is because we love our jobs.”