Joining a national trend, the Eden Prairie Starbucks at Highway 169 and Anderson Lakes Parkway has become one of the Twin Cities’ first suburban locations to file for unionization. Workers are pursuing union protection to gain better pay, benefits, and staffing.
About 25 baristas (known as “partners” at Starbucks) are currently voting until June 30 on whether to unionize. Votes will be counted, and the result announced on July 1.
Starbucks, a global coffeehouse chain with almost 34,000 locations valued at over $100 billion in 2021, has refused to voluntarily allow workers to form unions. Instead, it has required them to petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for formal votes.
Starting with a Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y., in December 2021, well over 100 corporate-owned U.S.-based Starbucks locations have now voted to unionize. That number is climbing.
Four Minnesota locations have already voted to unionize in St. Paul, Minneapolis, St. Anthony, and at the Mall of America.
Partners at the corporate-owned, stand-alone Starbucks store #2366, located at 9250 Anderson Lakes Parkway, filed a petition with the NLRB on April 21 to form a union with Starbucks Workers United.
In the filing addressed to Starbucks President & CEO Howard Schultz, employees protested the lack of labor, benefits, and pay.
The filing states: “We are given the absolute minimum to keep the store open, let alone succeed or thrive, yet we’re the ones taking the blame when we don’t achieve our numbers.
“And so, we see no other way forward than to organize; to petition for more labor; to petition for more, and better, benefits; to petition for higher wages that reflect inflation; to petition for anything, and everything, that will allow us to not only thrive at our jobs, but thrive in our lives outside this job,” the filing stated.
Starbucks Workers United argues that most workers in this industry are overworked and underpaid, which could be prevented by having union contracts. Also known as collective bargaining agreements, such contracts set out pay, benefits, policies, and working conditions.
Currently, non-union Starbucks workers are hired on an “at-will” basis, which means the company can discipline or fire them for any reason as long as it doesn’t violate federal laws.
Starbucks partner Owen Gast, who has worked the Hwy. 169 and Anderson Lakes store since April 2021, has spearheaded the effort to unionize: “When I heard about the Buffalo store unionizing, I said, ‘It’s crazy what they’re doing over there, and we should do it too.’”
Gast, who uses they/them pronouns, had no community organizing or labor relations experience, so they started doing research: “I contacted Starbucks Workers United via Twitter on March 30. I bought pins for everyone in the store to show solidarity, which helped a lot to gauge support while organizing. We filed with the NLRB about three weeks after, on April 21. Then we got the union organizer up from Chicago to help us learn more.”
Gast says that their store is understaffed, which puts a strain on partners trying to do a good job for their customers: “We’re a skeleton crew and pushed as far as we can go and a little bit more. Unionizing will help that a lot.”
Among other things, Gast says, “We are hoping to achieve more staffing, higher pay, better benefits, and guaranteed minimum hours. Right now we’re paid $15/hour. We’re asking $24/hour starting but expect to get $20.”
Upon winning their election, employees at the store would receive three things: The right to negotiate a contract, no unilateral changes to existing benefits without the approval of the union, and Weingarten Rights, which guarantee the right to representation in disciplinary meetings. After winning a contract, partners won’t pay union dues until a contract is reached. The dues total about 2% of a paycheck, Gast says.
Federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees trying to organize a union.
Under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), “it is the policy of the United States to encourage collective bargaining by protecting workers’ full freedom of association. The NLRA protects workplace democracy by providing employees at private-sector workplaces the fundamental right to seek better working conditions and designation of representation without fear of retaliation.”
However, some unionizing Starbucks across the country have reported a frosty reception from managers, who would not be part of the unions. Workers at some U.S. stores have alleged they were fired for their organizing activity.
Partners in Eden Prairie have been allowed to wear pins and shirts promoting unionization.
However, Gast says they experienced a negative reaction once managers found out they were trying to organize a union: “I was a star model employee who was promoted from barista to shift supervisor and certified as a coffee master, but the second they learned I was organizing, I couldn’t do a single thing right.
“One of the managers has made lot of passive aggressive comments like ‘I don’t know why we need a union,’” Gast says. “The manager also says things like ‘I’m not anti-union but we can work around it in unity,’ but then makes us take down all of the pro-union posters we put up.”
Gast says it’s been helpful and motivating to have support from Starbucks Workers United, partners at other unionizing locations, and the community.
“In early June, some [Democratic Socialists of America] members came to the store and staged a sit-in during open hours. Every table was full. They were wearing Starbucks Workers United shirts and pins. We talked with customers and got a lot of positive questions and support,” Gast recounts.
The vast majority of the partners at this store are in favor of a union, Gast says: “Most young people, especially at our store, have a favorable opinion of unionizing. Of our older partners, it’s mostly neutral, with only two definite ‘no’s.”
Still, Gast says, “I’m 100% confident we will unionize. We have well over 50% of the people wearing the pins every day, and we had 67% signed on union cards. A vote of 50% plus one vote is needed for the effort to pass.”
Gast expects the unionizing trend to continue to spread in Minnesota and across the country: “After we filed, I gave some of my extra pins to partners at the Starbucks at 100 and Industrial in Edina. They filed publicly on June 8, after only about two weeks of organizing.”
Gast offers this advice for other Starbucks partners considering organizing: “You don’t need to know anything about unions to start. There’s still so much I’m learning, even this far in the process. If you’re not sure, just do it.”
Multiple managers from store #2366 declined to comment and referred calls to Starbucks Corporate, which had not responded as of press time.
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