Why Are Starbucks Workers Unionizing? (2023)

Starbucks employees at three Buffalo, New York area locations of the coffee shop giant have petitioned the NLRB to unionize. We spoke with two union supporters and members of Starbucks Workers United, Michael Sanabria and Casey Moore. Michael is a photographer and an award winning barista who has been with Starbucks for over four years and had previously worked at other local coffee shops. Casey is a Starbucks barista, graduate student and graphic designer.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Errol Schweizer: Why did you start working at Starbucks?

Casey Moore: I'm a barista at Starbucks and I started working there because I'm studying for graduate school. I needed things like health care benefits. I thought they were really good compared to a lot of other service industry jobs in particular. I had worked in the service industry before, I've been a waitress and different things. And I really valued the things what Starbucks seems to stand for. So I was really excited when I got a job as barista. And even more excited when I started hearing things about organizing.

Michael Sanabria: I'm a barista, I actually got hired into the company as a shift supervisor. I had worked at another coffee chain and my store manager came to Starbucks, and she loved me and also wanted me to work at her store. And then I kind of fell in love with coffee, and then the people and the vibe.

Errol: What's it been like to work at Starbucks during the pandemic?

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Casey: It's definitely heightened tensions with people. There's been supply shortages around the country affecting Starbucks, so we're constantly out of things. You show up to work and you don't really know what you're going to be working with, if you're really going to be able to do your job because of the supplies that we have and don't have. There's been some COVID precautions taken and I will say that, I think Starbucks as a company did a good job especially during the beginning of COVID, with closing down some of the stores, and things like that, but it's definitely been a very stressful environment. I think the pandemic highlighted how hard service industry jobs are, and highlighted the importance of us getting better living standards.

Errol: So what inspired the union organizing campaign?

Michael: I think what inspired it is seeing just the way the company had treated the employees early on, there was actually an increased pay rate when we were essential workers, and then after all the stores started being required to open up again, they took that pay rate down. But we're still in the pandemic, nothing changed. So things like that, and just generally not feeling appreciated.

Casey: I think my store in particular is interesting, I work at the Williamsville Place Store in Buffalo. And my story is actually kind of an outlier. Because most of the partners at my store have been there 3, 5, 10 plus years. So, I came in as a new partner and really saw that these are the people that make Starbucks work and make it happen. Without them,our store would be a mess and they have good ideas. And like Michael said, we just didn't feel appreciated or valued. Or, ultimately, it's about having a voice at the table. And I think that's what really brought this on was people saying, you know, we can do something about this, we have power when we stand together, and you know, there's 8000 Starbucks in the entire country, and not one of them are unionized, there's a problem here. I think just people talking in the Buffalo region, and a lot of people wanting to do something about it, I think it was a good moment. And the word spread. And here we are.

Errol: So what are your demands?

Casey: The demands are going to depend on different stores and what the bargaining committee at each store comes up with. That is ultimately the reason that we want a seat at the table, to decide democratically what we want those changes to be. There are things like seniority pay, for example, adequate staffing, credit card tips, like all of these things. But, you know, corporate has come in and changed everything about our stores and is trying to fix long standing problems. But from our perspective, we know that they're only here because of the union effort. And we know that the second the vote is over, they're gonna pack up their bags and leave. So I think it's really about having a seat at the table and making Starbucks a better company now and also 5, 10 years down the line.

(Video) Why Starbucks workers want to unionize over 50 stores in the U.S.

Michael: A voice in some of the decisions. They've come in and arbitrarily decided certain local managers and certain members of local management are unfit and just fired them. We didn't ask for that. That wasn't something we wanted at all. They just kind of did it. They said that they were here to listen, and you're not listening if you're just arbitrarily deciding this. We want to be able to hold them accountable to that. I know at one store meeting they even said, you know, hold us accountable. And somebody at my store was like, well, how do we do that? What are the avenues to do that? And they just didn't have an answer,

Errol: So how has this campaign been received by your co-workers?

Michael: Most of them have been in favor, right now we're in kind of a period of high turnover. So there's been a lot of newer people. I had one coworker a couple weeks ago telling me this is the best job she's had so far. It doesn't mean it can't be better. But they've been genuinely positive.

Casey: I'll be honest, it's a mixed bag. There are people that are pro, there are people that are anti, I'm sure. I think there's been in general a lot of excitement. But to be honest, there's also been a lot of confusion. And I would say that's largely because of Starbucks' response, since they started having these basically mandatory listening sessions and team meetings. We've asked them straight up, can we have a union representative? We only have one organizer helping us. Can he stand here? Can you let us answer questions, too? And they keep saying “Oh, well, you know, the union could have their own meetings if they want to”. But as an example, I brought in some fliers explaining what was going on in my store and put them in the back room where we have all the other information that partners need to know. And I come back a day or two later, and they've all just disappeared after a group of corporate representatives were visiting our store. And when I inquired about them, no one knew what mysteriously happened to them. So, if Starbucks wants to have a fair election, like they keep saying that they do, then they need to actually let people know what's going on and give us equal time.

Errol: So what's the overall vision for organizing?

Michael: Better quality of life at work. I have seen my coworkers have breakdowns over things like being behind on bills or even things like being understaffed on the floor. Like really, really poorly understaffed. Somebody who recently got promoted to shift supervisor texted me in the middle of a really awful shift. And she was like, I really, really want to cry right now, But I don't have the time for it. Stuff like that. It is a fun job. Like it's a coffee shop, right? And it's not the most serious thing in the world, but it's just coffee. So you can have fun with it and people shouldn't be having breakdowns. And ways you can do that are things that we can all collectively bargain for and get in an agreement.

Casey: It's going to be a battle to get a good contract, but we're ready for that. The vision for me is to get a good contract and fight for all the things Michael was saying and to actually have our voices be represented and actually have a seat at the table for partners. I want my quality of life to be better, my co-workers quality of life to be better and I think we can get that with a good contract. And I think it'll make Starbucks a better company at the end of the day.

(Video) Starbucks Employees To Decide Whether To Form The Chain's First U.S. Union in Buffalo

Errol: How can folks support you?

Michael: Following us on social media on every platform, Facebook, Instagram Twitter.

Casey: I think we need to call on Starbucks and say this is supposedly a progressive company, these are things that you value, but you can't be pro-LGBTQ, pro-Black Lives Matter, pro all of these things and be anti-union. It just doesn't work that way. So I think we just need help in calling this out for what it is. And tip your baristas when you go.

Errol: You getting community support in Buffalo?

Michael: Yes, there was somebody in the drive thru and he was like, you know you guys were on the news and I was like yeah, I do and he was like great, keep it up, we hope it goes well and we hope the company stops doing bad stuff. There are regulars saying if anything negative comes back on us, somebody gets fired or anything like that, they'll stop coming completely and these are people that come 3, 4, 5 times a day, 5, 6 days a week.

Casey: In Buffalo we're a strong union town up here. We have the Mercy Hospital workers on strike right now, we were out there picketing with them. We have India Walton, a socialist mayoral candidate who won the Democratic nomination, about to be our future Mayor. We have so much support and we're gonna be proud to join their ranks.

Some folks, when they hear that we're organizing their first response would be, why are those Starbucks baristas organizing? You know compared to other jobs like McDonald's MCD and stuff like that, they have healthcare? Why are they doing this? What is the necessity? I would just say to them, I've worked so many service jobs but this is the hardest by far. There's so much going on, we're working our butts off and, our quality of life, we're barely just making it. So we're fighting not only to improve the lives of baristas, but hopefully the service industry. And we deserve to have a say in our workplace just like everybody does.

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Michaels: I've even had family members ask, isn't Starbucks great to work for? And yes, but also no. My mom works in the hospital, and she was a barista for three months, and she was like, you guys work way harder than I do. She has tons of downtime at work. And she was like, you guys work hard. It's not an easy job.

Errol: I learned this the hard way at Whole Foods WFM that we had a lot of really progressive policies, but the company changed, did layoffs and took away a lot of that stuff because none of it was legally guaranteed. It was just their preference to give us those things. You need something in writing, if you want to keep what you already have. And if you want to get more, you definitely need it legally binding. Thank you both.

Note: We’ve reached out to Starbucks for comment on these issues and are awaiting a response.


Why does Starbucks want to unionize? ›

At Starbucks, unionized baristas want a boost to the current starting salary of $15 per hour, more staffing where it's needed and more say over their schedules. They also want better benefits.

Why are Starbucks workers striking? ›

(NEXSTAR) – Starbucks workers at over 110 locations across the U.S. are planning strikes or walkouts on Thursday to protest working conditions, pay, and the company's alleged actions to discourage unionization efforts, according to a labor group representing thousands of Starbucks employees.

What are the major reasons why workers unionize? ›

Some workers join a trade union because they believe that a union can:
  • negotiate better pay.
  • negotiate better working conditions, like more holidays or improved health and safety.
  • provide training for new skills.
  • give general advice and support.

Why are the employees deciding to unionize? ›

Joining together in unions enables workers to negotiate for higher wages and benefits and improve conditions in the workplace. There are millions of union members in America from all walks of life. These individuals know that by speaking up together, you can accomplish more than you could on your own.

What is the main problem of Starbucks? ›

Starbucks only purchase the premium quality coffee beans for their product, is the priced that higher than other competitors and this will be giving the competitors a cost advantage over Starbucks so that the sales of Starbuck decreases follow by decreasing profit. This will cause Starbuck to face financing problem.

What is Starbucks biggest threat? ›

Starbucks Threats – External Strategic Factors. Many coffeehouses offer products at an affordable rate. This can threaten the future's stability of Starbucks which offers higher prices. Aggressive competition with multinational companies like Dunkin Donuts and McDonald's can also pose a threat to its market position.

What is the problem currently facing Starbucks? ›

Shortages of ingredients and by extension menu items have also been plaguing Starbucks for much of 2021.

What is the strongest reason that employees join a union? ›

Dissatisfaction with wages, benefits, and working conditions appears to provide the strongest reason to join a union.

What are the benefits of being unionized? ›

Through their union, employees have the ability to negotiate from a position of strength with employers over wages, benefits, workplace health and safety, job training and other work-related issues. Unions also serve an important role making sure that management acts fairly and treats its employees with respect.

What are the benefits of unions for employers? ›

There is a substantial amount of academic literature on the following benefits of unions and unionization to employers and the economy:
  • Economic growth.
  • Productivity.
  • Competitiveness.
  • Product or service delivery and quality.
  • Training.
  • Turnover.
  • Solvency of the firm.
  • Workplace health and safety.

What are some of Starbucks failures? ›

Some beverages, like the Pumpkin Spice Latte that debuted in 2004, have become mainstays on Starbucks' menu. But others, like "Chantico" liquid chocolate and "Mazagran" — a coffee-and-soda hybrid — failed miserably.

Is Starbucks really socially responsible? ›

Starbucks has been building itself up as a brand synonymous with social responsibility since 1988 where it became one of the first companies in the US to offer full medical insurance to both full and part-time staff.

Why is Starbucks having a shortage? ›

Starbucks Calls the Shortages Temporary

Grocery stores, restaurants and retailers have struggled to meet demand, partly because of constrained supplies and sometimes because the pandemic has made forecasting demand a challenge.

Does Starbucks have a blacklist? ›

As far as I'm aware there is no “hire back list” there is only a “blacklist” blacklisted baristas are people who left on bad terms (fired, never showed up on time, misconduct, etc) and are put on a list to not be considered for hiring again.

How many times did Starbucks get rejected? ›

Of the 242 investors Schultz approached, 217 rejected his idea.

Why did Starbucks pull out of Russia? ›

In early March, the coffee chain condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and announced that it was suspending all store operations in agreement with its licensing partner, which owns and operates all of the Starbucks outlets in Russia.

Why is Starbucks so slow lately? ›

Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz has admitted that the wait time at Starbucks is not as swift as it used to be, but they're working on it. With the growing usage of ordering via the mobile app, register lines have shortened, but it's taking even longer to get your drink, as the baristas are swamped with simultaneous orders.

What are the major sources of risk facing the company Starbucks? ›

Major sources of risk facing the company:

The biggest risk for Starbucks is market saturation in USA. Another issue dealing with the low wages and salary to the employees and managers.

Did Starbucks shut down in Russia? ›

Starbucks will close all its business in Russia, the company announced in a note to employees Monday, becoming the latest multinational firm to sever ties with the country following its invasion of Ukraine. Customers buy coffee on the opening day of Russia's first Starbucks in Moscow in 2007.

What does it mean to unionize a Starbucks store? ›

Having a union means having democracy at work. Without a union, decision-making is top-down and the employer has all the power. With a union, workers will have the power to negotiate with the employer as equals, work under a contract that helps guarantee our rights, and elect those who will help us represent ourselves.

How will unionization affect Starbucks? ›

Locations under consideration for new stores will be shunned if union representation makes them unprofitable. The result is the same: fewer employees in the areas that are unionized. To the extent that the union wins above-market wages, unionized employment will decline.

Why did the New York Starbucks unionize? ›

In their own statements, employees at the four New York City stores cited COVID-19 pandemic-related shortages, “stagnant wages and benefits,” a lack of support from management and safety concerns as factors in their decision to move forward with the effort.

Why do companies not like unions? ›

There has long been rhetoric that unions do shift the employee-employer relationship—and may impact worker incentivization. When wages are standardized, good conditions are guaranteed, and layoffs are limited, workers have little motivation to work harder, companies argue.

How many Starbucks are unionizing? ›

In 2021 and 2022, over 6,500 workers at over 250 corporate-owned Starbucks stores in the U.S. have voted to unionize with Workers United at the multinational coffeehouse chain, starting with a store in Buffalo, New York, for the first time since the 1980s in an ongoing unionization effort.

Why does Starbucks not want to unionize? ›

Starbucks has one clear and consistent message: Employees don't need a union because the company has always provided for them — with competitive wages, health care, free college tuition and other benefits.

Does unionization increase unemployment? ›

Increases in union wages or the percent of the labor force that is unionized will tend, however, to be associated with an increase in average wages and a fall in total employment regardless of whether nonunion wages rise or fall as long as labor supply is elastic.

Why does Starbucks have a labor shortage? ›

Record numbers of Americans quit their jobs in 2021 in search of better wages, benefits, and working conditions, fueling a huge labor shortage that hit the restaurant industry especially hard. Many restaurants were forced to hike up wages and offer better benefits so that they could get enough staff to stay open.

When did Starbucks unionization start? ›

The Starbucks union began its drive to unionize stores in the summer of 2021. It's made progress since then, but its success was built on extensive preparation that took several years—and despite the big wins, progress has not been easy.

What was the first Starbucks to unionize? ›

In total, seven Starbucks locations in New York City have voted to unionize. Starbucks' flagship store in New York City, a “Reserve Roastery” located in Chelsea, became the first in the five boroughs to unionize in April, months after a Buffalo Starbucks store became the first in the nation to do so at the end of 2021.

What Starbucks stores are unionizing? ›

California Starbucks that have voted to unionize
  • Santa Cruz – 745 Ocean St. Votes for union: 13. ...
  • Santa Cruz – 1909 Mission St. ...
  • Long Beach – 3390 East 7th St. ...
  • Lakewood – 4833 Candlewood St. ...
  • Los Angeles – 138 South Central Ave. ...
  • Anaheim – 131 East Katella Ave. ...
  • Anaheim – 1570 South Disneyland Dr. ...
  • Capitola – 1955 41st Ave.
22 Jun 2022


1. Starbucks worker on unionization effort: We’re asking to have a ‘seat at the table’
(Yahoo Finance)
2. 200 Starbucks & Counting: Barista Jaz Brisack Says Union Busting Can't Stop Worker Solidarity
(Democracy Now!)
3. Starbucks workers' union fight gains traction
(CNBC Television)
4. How the Starbucks union vote may impact the restaurant industry
(CNBC Television)
5. Starbucks Workers In Buffalo Vote To Unionize
6. Why Starbucks workers are unionizing around the US
(The Real News Network)
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