The effort to organize Starbucks hit a milestone on Tuesday: More than 50 stores have now unionized, with many more likely on the way.
So far the campaign known as Starbucks Workers United has won the vast majority of union elections that have been held. As of noon, the union was victorious in 46 out of 54 contests, or 85% of them, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board. The union had lost only five elections, and the results were still not clear in another three.
Starbucks Workers United surpassed the 50-store mark later in the day, after winning four consecutive ballot counts for stores in Massachusetts. The labor board still has not certified the results in some elections, and the company may choose to challenge them.
None of Starbucks’ roughly 9,000 corporate-owned U.S. stores had union membership until last year, when Starbucks Workers United began organizing in the Buffalo, N.Y., area and quickly spread to other regions. The campaign is part of the union Workers United, an affiliate of the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union.
The campaign shared the news on Twitter to celebrate what seemed all but impossible just a year ago.
At this rate, the union is likely to organize over a hundred stores and perhaps many more, judging from how many elections workers have requested. As of Tuesday, the union had petitioned for votes at 237 stores, the labor board said. Votes have already been scheduled for 118 of them in the coming weeks.
Workers can petition for an election once 30% or more in a workplace have signed union authorization cards. When an election is held, the union needs to secure a simple majority of votes cast in order to win and become the workers’ bargaining representative.
But Starbucks Workers United appears to be rounding up a supermajority of support inside many stores, judging from their success rate. Several of their election victories have been shutouts in which not a single worker voted against the union.
And while many victories have been blowouts, the handful of losses for the union have tended to be close, like its narrow 8-7 defeat at a Hawaii store on Monday.
Starbucks has aggressively combated the union campaign. The company has tried to slow the pace of union elections through the labor board and dispatched managers, right on up to CEO Howard Schultz, to urge workers to vote against unionization. Starbucks recently filed charges with the board accusing the union of harassing employees and customers.
The union has filed a litany of its own charges against Starbucks, alleging that the company has illegally retaliated against pro-union workers to stifle the organizing campaign. Board officials have found merit in some of those claims.
A regional director for the NLRB has filed a complaint against Starbucks over a group of Tennessee workers whom Starbucks fired in February, known as the Memphis Seven, accusing the company of targeting them for their union activism. In a separate case, another regional director sought an injunction in federal court to get three Starbucks workers back on the job, saying the company retaliated against them.
Starbucks maintains that it hasn’t targeted anyone for union organizing, saying all the workers who were fired or disciplined had violated company policy.
The Starbucks union campaign is one of the most closely watched in decades. The group still represents only a small fraction of Starbucks’ overall workforce of more than 200,000, but the inroads it has made into a powerful and previously union-free company has given the labor movement a burst of optimism at a time of low union membership.
So has the recent success of the new Amazon Labor Union, which won a historic election at an 8,000-worker fulfillment center on Staten Island held in March. That vote created the tech giant’s first organized facility in the U.S. On Monday, the Amazon Labor Union lost a vote at a second, smaller facility on Staten Island, but union leaders have predicted that more Amazon elections are to come.
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