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Union vote count for three Buffalo-area Starbucks stores gets postponed, as workers accuse company of delay tactics

Ian Hayes, an attorney for Starbucks Workers United, speaks with the media Feb. 23, 2022, following the postponement of a scheduled union vote count for three Buffalo-area Starbucks stores.
Tom Dinki
Ian Hayes, an attorney for Starbucks Workers United, speaks with the media Feb. 23, 2022, following the postponement of a scheduled union vote count for three Buffalo-area Starbucks stores.

Workers at three Buffalo-area Starbucks stores will have to wait longer to find out whether they’ll be the company’s next unionized locations.

Ballots from stores in Amherst, Cheektowaga and Depew were supposed to be counted Wednesday, but the National Labor Relations Board failed to rule on an appeal from Starbucks prior to the scheduled count, and so the ballots were impounded pending a decision.

Starbucks Workers United, the Buffalo-area workers leading the unionization effort since last summer that has already seen two local stores unionize, expressed frustration with the delay. Workers at the three impacted stores first filed to hold a union vote more than five months ago.

“It's not fair that we have another delay in front of us right now when we are trying to fight to make sure that we have more of a say in our workplace,” said Angel Krempa, a shift supervisor at the Transit and French roads location in Depew. “This isn’t right.”

Starbucks’ appeal stems from its desire for one regional vote as opposed to stores holding their own individual votes. The Seattle-based coffee giant on Jan. 24 appealed a decision by the regional NLRB office that said the three Buffalo-area stores could vote individually, and asked the Washington, D.C.-based NLRB headquarters to reconsider.

Starbucks knows it's a “nonsense argument,” but wants to delay the ballot count for as long as possible, said an attorney for Starbucks Workers United, Ian Hayes.

“They’re gaming the system to try to delay the process, break the workers' momentum,” he said. “It's a delay tactic, and this right here is what union busting looks like in the United States in 2022.”

Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said in an email that the company believes all workers in a market should vote on unionization, and that it will continue to “advocate for our partners’ ability to make their voices heard.”

However, the NLRB seems unlikely to rule in Starbucks’ favor. The agency previously rejected a similar request for a regional vote when it came to the three Buffalo-area stores who voted in December.

And on Wednesday it rejected Starbucks’ request that workers in Arizona participate in a regional vote. That appeal had impounded those workers’ ballots as well, but their ballots will now be counted.

Hayes said he hopes the Arizona rejection will convince Starbucks to drop its push for regional votes and “act in good faith.”

“So far, they haven't acted in good faith, they haven't acted reasonably. I hope that changes today,” he said.

Workers also expressed frustration with the NLRB for not making a decision prior to Wednesday’s scheduled count.

Colin Cochran, a barista at the Walden Avenue and Anderson Road location in Cheektowaga, said the agency had failed its duties to rule on the appeal in a reasonable amount of time,

“The NLRB knows the ins and outs of it, and it's ruled against at Starbucks every single time, but it seems like they just couldn't get to it,” he said. “This wasn't important enough to them.”

“We need the NLRB to start stepping up and actually representing those who have come forward to say we need to be represented,” added Krempa of the Depew location. “This is their job, and they need to start being held accountable for exactly what they came into fruition for.”

The Elmwood Avenue store in Buffalo and the Genesee Street store in Cheektowaga became the first unionized Starbucks stores in the U.S. after a successful ballot count on Dec. 9. The Camp Road store in Hamburg voted against unionization.

Since then, workers at 105 stores in 26 states, including the Arizona store, have filed to hold their own union votes.

Michelle Eisen, a shift supervisor at the Elmwood store, who along with her coworkers are currently bargaining with Starbucks for their first contract, said Wednesday’s delay won’t discourage the movement.

“We're not going to get any quieter than we have been, and we haven't been very quiet to begin with,” she said. “We just want to let everybody know that this is just another small delay in a long road that has gotten us here. And we'll be back in a matter of weeks hopefully to count those ballots and continue to add stores to the unionized stores.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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