Starbucks workers in Buffalo made history this week by becoming the first in the U.S. to unionize at a corporate-operated store. Union representation elections were held at three Buffalo-area Starbucks stores, with three different results. Workers at the Elmwood Avenue store voted yes, 19 to eight. Workers at another store voted no by a 12 to eight margin, but the union is contesting that outcome, saying that some votes may not have been counted. At a third location, the vote count stood at 15 in favor of unionizing and nine against, leaving a union win overwhelmingly likely but dependent on the resolution of seven challenged ballots.
Starbucks poured resources into defeating the union effort, from sending corporate managers to “help” at the stores (translation: intimidate workers away from union support) to sending former CEO Howard Schultz to town to give a veiled anti-union speech during which area Starbucks stores were closed so workers could attend. The reason companies spend that much money and effort to defeat relatively small organizing efforts—a total of around 111 workers were eligible to vote in these three elections—is because they fear that one win for workers will spur organizing efforts in other places. And indeed, even before the one and likely two wins in Buffalo, workers at another three Buffalo Starbucks stores and one in Mesa, Arizona, had petitioned for union representation elections.
This is small in absolute numbers, but large in significance—even though there’s a brutal contract fight ahead. And check out the joy on display in the video below.