Workers at two Twin Cities Starbucks locations—300 Snelling Ave. in St. Paul and 4712 Cedar Ave. in Minneapolis—"overwhelmingly" signed cards indicating their intent to unionize, according to a Friday press release from SEIU affiliate Starbucks Workers United.
Those are the first Minnesota links in the multinational coffee chain to move toward unionization, joining a national wave that began last year in Buffalo, New York. The caffeinated labor movement has spread to 70+ stores in at least 20 states.
After Buffalo became the world's first union Starbucks last month, pro-labor energy surged across the company, Kasey Copeland says.
“Suddenly, people were much more like, 'We can actually do this,'" the barista at the Cedar Avenue shop tells Racket. "It seemed less like a pipe dream and more like a tangible reality."
Union activity began bubbling in Minneapolis last fall, Copeland reports. By December, members of the 31-person shop were meeting with Starbucks Workers United, and just last Thursday the smaller St. Paul café joined the effort. Copeland says workers liked the idea of going public with both cities represented.
"Starbucks has that seat at the table in all of their corporate meetings that is supposed to represent the partners, kind of as a symbol," she explains. "We have the on-the-ground perspective, and a lot of times the policies and procedures put in place by corporate don’t make sense for the actual needs of our stores. At this point, we want that seat at the table to no longer be a symbol—we want to make the company better by having a voice.”
Would that voice be advocating for better wages, too?
“Oh, absolutely,” Copeland says with a chuckle.
“We as workers at Starbucks invest our time, well-being, and safety into a company that has shown repeated apathy towards its employees," reads an email that workers at the St. Paul shop sent early Friday to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. "We work in the midst of an ongoing global health crisis, and see little to no support … We want to see Starbucks become a healthier and more equitable workplace … We are organizing a union at the Snelling and Stanford store in Saint Paul to improve our workplace for ourselves, for members of our community, and for Starbucks as a whole.”
Managers at the Twin Cities Starbucks have acknowledged the workers' legal right to organize, though they've declined to voluntarily recognize the union. That means upcoming elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Should the worker yeas outweigh the nays: blammo, the first-ever unionized Starbucks locations in Minnesota.
Starbucks, like most businesses big and small, isn't embracing its unionizing workforce. The $140 billion company recently fired seven organizing workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Starbucks denied the moves had anything to do with those workers talking to the media, but Starbucks Workers United called the firings "union-busting." So far, two Starbucks shops have won their union votes, and the company is exploring its legal retaliatory options.
Copeland and her colleagues are feeling confident heading into the NLRB elections.
“Oh, it’s an overwhelming majority. We’re feeling very good about the situation," she says. "We are a little nervous about the union-busting tactics Starbucks has been employing, but that doesn’t add up to their mission and values. They don’t scare us.”
Click here to read our feature on how the Twin Cities became a hotbed for craft beverage unions; click here to read how #Striketober energized Minnesota workers across industries.