Three Starbucks shops in New York could be the first in the massive US coffee chain to unionize, pending a worker vote set to start Wednesday.
A total of around 100 employees at the upstate shops in Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Hamburg will have four weeks to cast their ballots for or against forming a union at the locations, Bloomberg reported.
“It’s a much bigger deal than the number of [affected workers] would suggest. Winning is contagious, and it could spread like wildfire,” former National Labor Review Board Chair Wilma Liebman told the news outlet.
The employees would be unionizing under the banner of Workers United, part of the Service Employees International Union, if the effort succeeds. Proponents are pushing for higher wages, better hours and safety measures to protect them from unruly customers.
On Saturday, the company shuttered its Buffalo area stories for employees to meet at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo with a top representative — former Starbuck CEO Howard Schultz.
Starbucks has repeatedly urged employees to vote against the union. After the meeting, company officials released a letter from Schultz to Buffalo-area employees cautioning them against “outsiders,” the Buffalo News reported.
“No partner has ever needed to have a representative seek to obtain things we all have as partners at Starbucks,” the letter said. “And I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now.”
Union activists told Bloomberg they can beat back the company’s spook tactics.
“[Company execs] think three stores in Buffalo is bad — they’re going to love the next year. Because the interest [in unionizing] that we’ve had is mind-blowing,” said shift supervisor Alexis Rizzo.