Seattle Starbucks Unionizes in Coffee Giant’s Home City

SEATTLE, Wash. (AP) — Baristas and other Starbucks employees voted to unionise, the first such vote in the city where the coffee chain was founded and the latest in a nationwide push to organise the coffee shop chain.

The National Labor Relations Board’s unanimous vote announced Tuesday is also a symbolic victory, as Howard Schultz returns as interim CEO, The Seattle Times reported.

The Capitol Hill location will be the seventh in the country where employees voted to unionise with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. At least 140 additional stores have filed petitions for union elections in 27 states.

Starbucks announced the retirement of CEO Kevin Johnson on March 16. The company has appointed former CEO Schultz as interim leader until a permanent replacement is found by this fall. Schultz, 68, successfully fought attempts to unionise Starbucks’ US stores and roasting plants during his previous tenure with the company.

Schultz stated in a November letter to employees, just prior to the first unionisation vote at three stores in Buffalo, New York, that he sought to create the type of company that his blue-collar father never had the opportunity to work for.

He recalled the “traumatic moment” when his family lost income following his father’s workplace injury and explained why Starbucks provides benefits such as health insurance, free college tuition, parental leave, and stock grants to employees.

Starbucks was required to reinstate terminated employees or pay fines for labour law violations on numerous occasions in the early 2000s.

Starbucks was found to have unlawfully retaliated against two Philadelphia baristas who attempted to unionise last year by the national labour board. According to the board, Starbucks monitored employees’ social media accounts, illegally eavesdropped on their conversations, and then fired them. Starbucks was ordered to cease interfering with workers’ rights to organise and to offer the two workers reinstatement.

The board filed a complaint against Starbucks last week, alleging that district and store managers in Phoenix spied on and threatened union-supporting employees. Starbucks is alleged to have suspended one union supporter and terminated another.

Sydney Durkin, who works at the Seattle store, told the newspaper that while these jobs used to be temporary, they are increasingly becoming permanent.

“This is a signal to the larger food industry that it is evolving and progressing towards a more sustainable future,” Durkin said.

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