Starbucks workers could get rid of union at Mall of America store

By: - July 17, 2023 10:32 am

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

Workers at a Starbucks in Mall of America have filed a petition with federal labor regulators to vote on getting rid of their union — just over a year after voting to unionize with Starbucks Workers United.

The petition was signed by more than half of the workers at the store on the first floor of the mall, according to the National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union nonprofit that is providing free legal services in the effort.

The National Right to Work Foundation says it is also assisting Starbucks workers in Manhattan, Buffalo and Pittsburgh in holding elections to oust the union, indicating support for the union may be flagging amid a slow and grueling process negotiating labor agreements.

Starbucks Workers United has led a wildly successful campaign to unionize more than 300 stores across the country — including six in Minnesota — since the first in Buffalo, N.Y. But union leaders have said the harder part will be winning collective bargaining agreements governing wages, benefits and working conditions.

The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private-sector unions, has not yet scheduled an election to decertify the union, and the agency must first determine that the petition has valid signatures from at least at least 30% of workers. The NLRB generally prohibits decertification petitions for one year after a union is certified, but that can be extended if an employer refuses to bargain, according to an agency spokesperson.

No store in the country has finalized a labor agreement with Starbucks. The union says the company is purposefully stalling in order to frustrate and divide union workers. Officials with the NLRB have found the company has illegally “failed and refused” to collectively bargain at 144 sites. But federal labor regulators, who cannot fine employers for violations, have largely been ineffective at spurring negotiations.

In the meantime, Starbucks has waged a fierce campaign against the union by firing union leaders and closing unionized stores, while also rewarding workers at non-union stores with pay raises and the ability to collect tips from credit cards. Federal labor regulators said doing so is illegal, but the company contends it can only offer pay raises to unionized workers through collective bargaining.

Last week, the union launched a bus tour to rally workers across the country. But with negotiations sputtering, the union faces headwinds in maintaining enthusiasm in an industry with high employee turnover.

Jorge Franco, one of the original union organizers at the Mall of America Starbucks, quit working at the store last fall to return to school. Franco said the people he worked with have all since quit. He said he has never heard of the barista who filed the petition to get rid of the union, Rebecca Person.

In response to a request for an interview with a current barista at the Mall of America, Starbucks Workers United shared a statement from a barista at a store in New York.

“As a 12-year partner, I am disappointed to see Starbucks, a company that claims to have progressive values, align itself with extreme right-wing organizations like the Right to Work Foundation. Starbucks is providing partners with the contact information for the Right to Work Foundation to encourage them to file decertification petitions,” said Michelle Eisen, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based Starbucks barista, in a statement. “This is just union busting on top of union busting, and we are confident that these petitions will be dismissed due to the company’s own actions.”

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said in a statement that the company is prohibited from assisting workers — or “partners” in Starbucks parlance — in decertifying the union, but he noted workers at 11 other stores and the NYC Roastery have filed for decertification elections, which the company is sharing information about on its website.

“As with any NLRB petition, our focus is to ensure partners can trust their voice is heard and the process is fair,” Trull said.

Opponents of the union have seized on Starbucks Workers United’s use of “salts,” who are union organizers who seek work at Starbucks and other businesses with the goal of rallying workers to join the union.

“The deceptive tactics SBWU officials took in gaining control of multiple Starbucks locations are finally coming back to haunt them,” National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said in a statement. “Starbucks partners nationwide are seeing how the union organizers, including those secretly paid by the union pretending to be genuine coworkers, manipulated them to do what is best for union bosses but not in the best interests of rank-and-file workers.”

The National Right to Work Foundation also supported efforts to get rid of the unions for nurses and support staff at the Mayo Clinic’s Mankato Hospital.

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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.