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Ballots go out to local Starbucks employees deciding whether to unionize

Starbucks Worked United material sits out at the offices of Workers United at the Tri-Main Center building in Buffalo.
Tom Dinki
Starbucks Worked United material sits out at the offices of Workers United at the Tri-Main Center building in Buffalo.

A national focus is on the votes from employees at three area Starbucks stores who are deciding if they will become the first of the coffee company's 9,000 corporate-owned stores to unionize.

Noam Scheiber of the New York Times has been talking with workers and company officials about the many issues. According to Scheiber, Starbucks recently announced a pay increase for employees. They also offer health care coverage and online college education, all perks to keep unions out of their stores.

"I think that they just feel like, if they had to deal with another institution sitting across from them at the bargaining table, that would really hamper their ability to run these stores as efficiently as they want," he said. "So it's the operational stuff more than the money and the benefits."

In talking with local employees, Scheiber finds they have a variety of concerns they want addressed. Many of those problems were magnified by the pandemic.

"Scheduling, just not getting a predictable schedule, regular hours," he said. "Staffing, Starbucks tends to staff its stores very leanly, so there's just no margin for error. If someone calls in sick, then suddenly everyone's scrambling. There's more customers than anticipated, everyone is scrambling. It can be incredibly stressful. Training can be an issue."

Last weekend, former CEO Howard Schultz was in town and Scheiber said Starbucks North America President Rosann Williams has been in town several times, along with other members of the company's management team, leading employees to feel "monitored, they're being surveilled and just generally, they feel intimidated by the presence of so many top officials."

The National Labor Relations Board begins mailing out ballots to workers Wednesday. On Tuesday, employees at three other stores — Transit Road in Depew, Sheridan Drive in Amherst and Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga — announced they will explore organizing and are filing petitions with the NLRB.

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.
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