Workers at three Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, voted this week on whether to unionise, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for the coffee giant and the broader restaurant industry.
Wednesday is the deadline for mail-in ballots, and the National Labor Relations Board will begin counting votes Thursday afternoon. According to Starbucks’ voting list, approximately 100 employees who work at company-owned locations are eligible to vote.
In the restaurant industry, unions are uncommon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1.2 percent of workers at food and beverage establishments were union members in 2020, well below the 6.3 percent unionisation rate in the private sector. However, if Starbucks employees in Buffalo vote to unionise this week, the decision could have ramifications beyond the coffee chain.
“I believe that once people realise they can take steps to improve their workplace relationships with coworkers on their own, they will,” said Cathy Creighton, a union attorney and director of Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations branch in Buffalo.
Union organising drives by Amazon employees and strikes by employees of John Deere and Kellogg’s have dominated headlines this year, drawing increased attention to organised labour. A tight labour market has also instilled workers with the confidence that they can press employers for increased pay and benefits.
In Buffalo, organising workers have identified a number of issues that they believe a union can address, including understaffing, inadequate training, and low pay.
Starbucks management has been staunchly opposed to the union effort. Starbucks Workers United labelled the company’s move to send top executives and former CEO Howard Schultz to the Buffalo locations as “union busting.” Starbucks petitioned the National Labor Relations Board in Washington to expand the union vote throughout the Buffalo market, which includes 20 cafes, but the request was denied Tuesday.