Starbucks said Monday that while it opposed unionization, it will negotiate with “good faith, respect and positive intent” after its Buffalo outpost became the first Starbucks store in the nation to unionize.
The company acknowledged in a letter to its U.S. workers that it had fought for a different outcome in Buffalo. But it said it will “respect the legal process” in the wake of the baristas’ decision.
“This means we will bargain in good faith with the union that represents partners in the one Buffalo store that voted in favor of union representation,” Rossann Williams, the president of retail for North America, wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill. “Our hope is that union representatives also come to the table with mutual good faith, respect and positive intent.”
Starbucks’ Willingness to Bargain Follows Effort to Call off Vote
This month, Starbucks employees at the Buffalo store voted 19-8 to unionize. Prior to their decision, Starbucks executives had pushed to call off the vote. They argued that the whole Buffalo market, which includes about 20 stores, should have to vote at the same time. That would have complicated union organizers’ efforts to build support at each location.
At the store in question, on Elmwood Avenue, workers were jubilant but conciliatory. Michelle Eisen, a barista who helped lead the unionization push there, said in a statement released to Reuters that they hoped the company would sit down to bargain with them.
“We’re offering an olive branch to Starbucks. We’re asking them to put the past behind us, to sit down at the bargaining table to show the world they’re ready to bargain with their partners,” Eisen said.
Workers United is the union spearheading the Starbucks unionization push. It is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Two other Buffalo locations also voted on unionizing, with the results of those votes still contested. But already, stores in Mesa, Arizona and Boston have also moved toward union votes of their own.
Some Workers Feel Emboldened by Current Labor Market Conditions
Even approaching two years into the pandemic, many companies are still struggling to staff up. Some workers have been sidelined by coronavirus concerns and others have been living off generous stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. And so companies are increasingly competing against each other to lure workers.
Workers are leaving healthcare, retail and food service jobs at particularly high rates, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year. The Midwest and South are seeing the highest turnover.
“This [pandemic] has been going on for so long, it’s affecting people,” Danny Nelms, president of the consulting firm the Work Institute, told the WSJ. “Add to that over 10 million openings, and if I want to go do something different, it’s not terribly hard to do.”
Amid these developments, some workers feel their bargaining power is at an all-time high. Witness Starbucks workers unionizing. Also, employees at Kellogg’s remain on strike for better wages and benefits from the cereal giant. It looks like pandemic labor conditions will test the effectiveness of unions, which had been on the decline before coronavirus hit.