The Potluck

Workers at fourth Minnesota Starbucks announce plans to unionize

By: - March 29, 2022 2:37 pm

A Starbucks on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Workers at a fourth Starbucks store in Minnesota announced their intention to unionize on Tuesday, joining a national wave that has reached more than 150 other locations across the country.

The latest unionization announcement at a location in Minneapolis — at 54th Street and Lyndale Avenue — comes just a week after workers at a St. Anthony location announced their intent to unionize. Workers at two other stores in St. Paul and Minneapolis moved to form a union last month.

“I don’t feel we’re being treated fairly,” said supervisor Phoebe Dehring, 23, who’s worked at the store for six years.

Dehring said she loves her job but wants a union to negotiate for higher wages and more sick time. The starting wage at Dehring’s store is $16 an hour. She earns $20 an hour as a supervisor with more than three years of experience.

Those wages might seem generous in the service industry and have been driven up in recent months by the Great Resignation, as employers struggle to attract and retain workers. But workers are seeing those recent gains now eaten away by the highest inflation in 40 years.

“Inflation goes up every year and we want to be paid accordingly,” Dehring said. “Starbucks sometimes gives us raises but not in accordance with inflation … so with the higher cost of rent and everything, it doesn’t actually equal a raise.”

Starbucks has earned praise for its relatively high wages and benefits for baristas. In 2017, the company began offering baristas six weeks of paid maternity leave, which the company expanded to new dads the following year.

Early in the pandemic, Starbucks continued to pay baristas even if they didn’t work, as the company had to temporarily shutter stores. It also offered store workers two weeks of paid leave to quarantine after an exposure.

Dehring says Starbucks only provided that benefit once, which means workers need to tap into their sick time if they are reexposed or reinfected with COVID-19.

Starbucks workers in Minnesota have also said they are looking for a greater voice in day-to-day operations, beyond increases in wages and benefits.

“This is about… earning ourselves a true seat at the table,” said Lola Rubens, 20, a Starbucks barista in St. Paul.

Starbucks has declined to voluntarily recognize unions at its stores, instead requiring workers to vote in an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, which often gives management time to beat back unionization drives.

A spokeswoman for Starbucks says the company will wait for their “partners” — as they call their workers — to vote, saying the process gives workers an anonymous, democratic way to express what they want.

“We respect our partners’ right to organize. And for the stores that do choose to be represented by Workers United, we will bargain in good faith,” Starbucks spokeswoman Sarah Albanesi said after the first two Minnesota locations announced their unionization efforts.

The NLRB certified the first union at one of Starbucks’ roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in December in Buffalo, N.Y. Since then six more stores in Buffalo have voted to unionize along with one in Mesa, Ariz. One store in Buffalo voted against unionizing after petitioning the NLRB for an election.

Workers at the two Starbucks locations in St. Paul and Minneapolis who petitioned for a union in February will receive ballots in early April, with results to be announced near the end of the month.

More than 20 workers will vote at the St. Paul location at 300 Snelling Ave. S., while nearly 30 workers will vote at the Minneapolis location at 4712 Cedar Ave.

While public support for unions is the highest it’s been in generations, union membership across the country remains near all-time lows.

Despite news of union drives sweeping across the service sector, union membership in Minnesota has stayed mostly flat, with the percentage of workers in a union ticking up from 15.8% in 2020 to 16% in 2021. Over the same period, the union membership rate nationally decreased from 10.8% to 10.3%.

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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.