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Labor board certifies Buffalo location as first unionized U.S. Starbucks store

Buffalo-area Starbucks workers celebrate at the Workers United office Dec. 9, 2021, after learning via a virtual hearing they had earned enough votes to unionize the Elmwood Avenue location in Buffalo.
Tom Dinki
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WBFO News
Buffalo-area Starbucks workers celebrate at the Workers United office Dec. 9, 2021, after learning via a virtual hearing they had earned enough votes to unionize the Elmwood Avenue location in Buffalo.

The National Labor Relations Board confirmed a vote Friday to form a union at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, meaning the coffee retailer, for the first time, will have to bargain with organized labor at a company-owned U.S. store.

"We don't want to fight Starbucks — we're asking them to turn over a new leaf," said Jaz Brisack, an organizer at the store, one of three New York Starbucks locations that petitioned the labor board for a union election in October.

Voting wrapped up last week and the board certified the results of the Buffalo employees' 19-8 vote Friday.

Workers United, the union representing the employees, filed formal objections in the other two elections late Thursday, delaying certification. The objections claim Starbucks waged a "shock and awe" campaign meant to dissuade workers from voting to unionize.

The 50-year-old company has actively fought unionization for decades, saying its more than 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores function best when it works directly with employees.

Workers at a store in the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg voted 12-8 against a union. The outcome of a Cheektowaga store's vote could not be determined because both sides challenged seven separate votes. Union organizers said six of the votes were cast by ineligible employees.

If the outcome of the ballot challenges favors unionization, organizers will drop the objection to the Cheektowaga results, attorney Ian Hayes said.

The objections say Starbucks employees "were subjected to a massive campaign of overwhelming psychological force from the moment they publicly expressed the desire to form a union."

Dozens of managers were sent in to speak against the efforts in individual and group meetings with employees, according to the filings. Workers were told they could lose benefits under a union, and pro-union employees were spied on and saw their schedules changed and hours reduced.

The actions disrupted the "laboratory conditions" considered necessary for a fair election, the union said.

"These claims are grossly inaccurate. We did not and do not engage in intimidation tactics," Starbucks responded in a statement. "We are partners and we show up for one another. That's what we do and what we continue to do."

If the NLRB determines that the claims could be grounds for setting aside an election, it would order a hearing to determine whether a new election should be held.

Workers at all three stores began voting by mail last month on whether they wanted to be represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

After the Buffalo vote, Starbucks workers at two locations in Boston petitioned the NLRB for union elections. Three other Buffalo-area stores and a store in Mesa, Arizona, also have filed petitions with the labor board for their own union elections. Those cases are pending.

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