Starbucks workers in North Texas join national push for a union

At least four Starbucks in the region have unionized. Workers across the U.S. have filed thousands of complaints against the Seattle-based company over alleged federal labor law violations.

By Pablo Arauz Peña, KERAFebruary 22, 2023 9:38 am, ,

From KERA:

On a sunny Tuesday morning at the Flower Mound Starbucks at Robertson’s Creek shopping center, workers are busy making espresso, mixing drinks and preparing food as customers chat idly.

The workers at the shop voted to unionize in January, joining three other stores across the region — in Addison, Denton and at Mockingbird Station in Dallas — with a national group that’s part of the larger Workers United Labor Union based in Philadelphia.

Parker Heyns — the 21-year-old who led the effort to unionize Flower Mound — said he was motivated to start the union after feeling undervalued at work.

“People always think that all of these jobs are so easy, and that you can just walk in and just start doing it from day one and be able to pick up on everything,” Heyns said. “But it’s really not like that.”

Heyns pitched the idea for the union to his coworkers — Starbucks refers to its employees as “partners” — last spring. Like other unionized stores, Flower Mound partners want better pay and benefits, along with better health and safety conditions.

But Heyns says unionizing the store didn’t come easy — they faced pressure from higher-ups at the company throughout the voting process.

“One partner in specific who has been here for three years now and wants to promote to the assistant manager position was told that that was pretty much a no-go if the union was going to go through,” Heyns said.

The exterior of a Starbucks location is seen.

Pablo Arauz Peña / KERA News

Workers at this Starbucks location in Flower Mound voted to unionize in January.

Stories like those have become common across the the country. Many have been the subject of administrative and legal complaints, with some cases more severe than others.

Last week, a federal judge in Michigan ordered Starbucks to stop firing workers involved in union activity. In a statement, the company called the order “unwarranted” and said that it will be seeking further review.

At a store in Memphis, the company was found to have violated federal labor law after it fired seven employees — known as the “Memphis Seven” — who formed an organizing committee. The National Labor Relations Board eventually ordered the company to reinstate those workers and provide back pay for the work missed.

The company also fired five baristas in South Carolina after they went on strike. Workers there confronted their manager and the exchange went viral on TikTok.

“All of the things that Starbucks has been saying about, ‘you won’t be able to transfer,’ or ‘you’re going to lose your benefits’ — those were all just intimidation tactics that they’re trying to use to discourage workers from organizing,” said Casey Moore, a spokesperson for the national Starbucks Workers United in New York. “None of it is true.”

In a statement to KERA, a spokesperson for Starbucks wrote that the company believed its relationship with employees was better without a union.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country,” the statement read. “From the beginning, 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. We remain committed to our partners and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone.”

In an interview with CNN this month, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the company is willing to negotiate, but only if the bargaining happens in person instead of online.

“If a diminuis group of people, which now is about 300 stores, file for a petition to be unionized, they have a right to do so,” Schultz told CNN. “But we as a company have a right also to say we have a different vision.”

Moore, at the national union, says the company’s refusal to hold online negotiations is a delay tactic.

The union says it’s filed hundreds of charges with more than a thousand complaints against Starbucks. That includes complaints at the Mockingbird Station store in Dallas. Managers there were accused of questioning workers about their support for the union. (Workers at the Mockingbird Station location have declined interview requests for fear of retaliation from the company.)

Moore accused the company of stalling at the negotiating table, but said the union plans to keep pushing.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to bargain a contract that not just changes what it means to work at Starbucks, but really changes what it means to work in the food service industries,” Moore said. “And Starbucks does, you know, set a lot of standards for what this industry is.”

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