The employees of a Starbucks in Bath Beach are looking to form a union — becoming the first in Kings County to join in the labor movement, and becoming the latest in a national wave of labor organizing by workers at the ubiquitous coffee shop.
Six employees at Starbucks’ location in the Ceasar’s Bay Shopping Center, a waterfront mall in southern Brooklyn, signed a letter to CEO Kevin Johnson notifying him of their intention to organize with Starbucks Workers United, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union and has successfully unionized the first two Starbucks in the nation in Buffalo in recent months.
Over in Brooklyn, partners know that they are stronger together:
"We protect each other and care about each other’s needs. That is why in solidarity with our partners from the east coast to the west, we are unionizing to advocate for one another."
— SBWorkersUnited (@SBWorkersUnited) February 10, 2022
The employees, referring to themselves as “partners” per Starbucks internal lingo, say that they are struggling to pay for food and rent on the meager wages and sparse hours they are afforded by the company, which directly owns its stores rather than franchising outposts like many other large chains.
The workers say they’ve had to endure racist harassment and verbal attacks throughout the pandemic, and that the company neither trained employees on dealing with that nor provided sufficient support — leaving workers to provide for one another through mutual aid and other forms of care.
“We, the partners at the Ceasar’s Bay Starbucks, want to rebuild the trust between partners and Starbucks that has deteriorated over many years,” the six employees said in the letter. “We realize, like our fellow partners across the nation, a union is the way to build back that trust and create a true partnership.”
The employees say that company management called them in for a “listening session” in order to voice concerns, but that their grievances were not addressed.
“We want transparency and accountability,” they said. “Unionizing gives us the power to make sure our presence is felt.”
The Ceaser’s Bay employees were joined in their organizing push Thursday by workers at two Manhattan locations: Astor Place in Greenwich Village, and the baristas and manufacturers at the company’s “Reserve Roastery” in the Meatpacking District, where the company runs a number of coffee bars and a coffee bean roasting facility. The Reserve Roastery is the largest store on the East Coast, the union said in a statement.
In a statement, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the company is “listening and learning,” and said that the company believes they have a good working relationship with employees which a union would wedge itself between.
“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores, as we always do across the country,” the spokesperson said. “Starbucks success — past, present, and future — is built on how we partner together, always with Our Mission and Values at our core. We’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed.”
The spokesperson also said that the company respects workers’ right to organize, and that it will bargain in good faith with the union.
But the company has reportedly been going to great lengths to prevent its workers from unionizing. Organizing employees in Buffalo said that the company sent company management into the Erie County locations to monitor workers and perform labor typically done by baristas, which the employees saw as a form of intimidation. Motherboard reported that employees were forced to attend mandatory meetings where executives attempted to dissuade them from organizing, a common union-busting topic, and the company later went so far as to temporarily close two stores that were attempting to unionize.
Nonetheless, the union’s success in Buffalo has inspired employees at stores across the country to attempt to organize a union. On Wednesday, Starbucks fired seven employees at a Memphis location that they said had violated health and safety policies by talking to the media within the store, while not wearing a mask. However, all seven employees were either part of a unionization committee or supportive of the union, and Starbucks Workers United claims that their termination was retaliation for their activities.
In their letter, the Ceasar’s Bay employees asked that Johnson sign a pledge to not interfere in their union election, including promising no mandatory anti-union meetings, no anti-union material posted in the store (unless an equal amount of pro-union material can also be posted), no threats, no retaliation, and neutral arbitrators resolving disputes.
The Starbucks spokesperson said that the company wants its employees to have the right to vote in the election and that its “aiming to provide our partners with the educational resources that we have to help them make an informed decision,” but would not comment on whether the company would sign the fair election pledge.