Starbucks union loses first election in Minnesota

By: - June 16, 2022 8:16 pm

A Starbucks store at 5351 Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Workers narrowly voted against unionizing at a Starbucks store in Minneapolis on Tuesday, dealing the first defeat in Minnesota to Workers United, the union organizing employees at hundreds of stores across the country. So far, three of the four Starbucks stores to hold elections in the state have voted in favor of unionizing.

“It’s been a long, hard road so it’s pretty disappointing,” said Phoebe Dehring, a worker who supported the union drive at the store at 5351 Lyndale Ave. S.

But Dehring said workers haven’t given up and plan to challenge the results of the election with the National Labor Relations Board for what they believe were illegal anti-union tactics on the part of Starbucks.

Dehring said Starbucks managers told workers they could lose their health and education benefits through union negotiations. Managers also posted a flier on the fridge that said workers at non-union stores would receive larger pay increases than workers at unionized stores.

A Starbucks spokesperson denied any unfair labor practices.

“We have fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB and encouraged our partners to exercise their right to vote in the election to have their voices heard,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Five workers voted in favor of unionizing, six voted against and eight workers didn’t vote at all at the Lyndale Avenue location. The vote was anonymous, but Dehring said she thinks many of the workers who abstained from voting were afraid of retaliation.

Still, Dehring is hopeful for the movement even if their efforts to challenge the results are ultimately unsuccessful.

“I know the union momentum is going to keep going, regardless of if we unionize or not,” Dehring said. “It might be a defeat for us, but I do think most Starbucks will end up unionizing.”

The loss is an aberration from an otherwise highly successful unionization campaign by Workers United, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union. Nationally, nearly 160 Starbucks stores in 30 states have voted to unionize, while workers at just 23 stores rejected the union, according to More Perfect Union.

The number of unionized Starbucks stores is still a small fraction of the roughly 9,000 company-operated locations, but the parade of new unionization announcements has continued nearly every day since last December when workers in Buffalo, N.Y., unionized the first Starbucks.

On Wednesday, workers at a store in Rochester — at 1240 12th Street SW — became the first in the state outside the Twin Cities metro area to file for an election with the NLRB. Three other Minnesota stores — including at the Mall of America and in Eden Prairie — have also filed for elections.

Starbucks has earned praise for its relatively high wages and benefits for baristas — which includes six weeks of paid parental leave and tuition reimbursement. The company fiercely opposes unionization, however, saying the union gets in between the “direct relationship” they have with their employees.

The company faces allegations of illegal union busting across the country, including firing workers in Tennessee for their union activity. In Pennsylvania, an administrative law judge found the coffee chain illegally retaliated against two baristas.

Dehring said since they lost the election, she’s fearful she could lose her job for her organizing efforts.

Starbucks has fired back with allegations of unfair labor practices against Workers United, saying union organizers bully, harass and intimidate workers.

“These intermediaries have demonstrated that not only do they not operate in the best interest of partners, but sadly they’ll break labor rules to do so,” a Starbucks spokesperson wrote in an email.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.