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Three more Buffalo-area Starbucks stores vote to unionize

Buffalo Starbucks workers
Tom Dinki
Starbucks workers James Skretta and Daniel Rojas go over the union ballot results from the Sheridan Drive and Bailey Avenue store in Amherst March 9, 2022.

Three more Buffalo-area Starbucks stores have voted to unionize, bringing the total to five in Western New York and six across the country.

A ballot count by the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday confirmed union victories at Starbucks stores on Walden Avenue and Anderson Road in Cheektowaga, Sheridan Drive and Bailey Avenue in Amherst, and Transit and French Roads in Depew.

They now join Starbucks Workers United along with Buffalo’s Elmwood Avenue store and Cheektowaga’s Genesee Street store, which voted to unionize in December, as well as an Arizona store that voted to unionize last month.

Wednesday’s vote count was supposed to take place two weeks ago but was delayed amid an appeal from Starbucks that stores take part in a regional vote as opposed to voting individually. The NLRB ultimately ruled against that request.

Buffalo Starbucks workers await union vote results
Tom Dinki
Buffalo-area Starbucks workers anxiously watch a livestream of the National Labor Relations Board count ballots from the store on Sheridan Drive and Bailey Avenue March 9, 2022. All three votes tallied were decided by one vote.

“I'm so glad that we are joining in on this union effort and that we're represented finally,” said Angel Krempa, a shift supervisor at the Transit-French store. “Starbucks, we're not backing down.”

But the votes were far from unanimous. All three were decided by just a single vote: a count of 8-7 at Walden-Anderson and counts of 15-12 at both Sheridan-Bailey and Transit-French. The latter two stores both had two contested ballots that were ultimately not deciding factors.

Starbucks Workers United said the close votes were due to Starbucks’ anti-union campaign, which has seen the Seattle-based coffee giant send dozens of out-of-state executives to Buffalo over the last six months, including North America President Rossann Williams.

“Unfortunately, it came to people being too afraid to express how they really feel, people being fed lies by Starbucks,” said Rachel Cohen, a barista at the Sheridan-Bailey store.

Workers filed 21 Unfair Labor Practice charges against Starbucks last month, alleging the company has interfered with organizing efforts by intimidating and surveilling employees, temporarily closing stores, and targeting union leaders.

Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges has called the allegations “categorically false.”

Still, workers said Wednesday they saw the company’s effort to dissuade workers from unionizing.

“They're telling them if you want to work at another store you're going to have to quit and get rehired and you're going to lose your tenure if you want to work at a non-union store. They're saying that you're not going to be able to pick up hours at other stores. But all of these things are lies,” said James Skretta, a barista at the Sheridan-Bailey store. “These are things that we negotiate in a contract, and we would never vote yes on a contract that doesn't guarantee the benefits that we already have at our store.”

They also said pro-union stores were disrupted with temporary closings and an influx of new hires.

Starbucks turned the Walden-Anderson store into a training facility and transferred workers to other stores shortly after workers there filed to hold a union vote in September. It reopened after two months.

Mike Dolce, an attorney with Starbucks Workers United, said there were about 20 Walden-Anderson workers who signed union cards at the start of the campaign in September. Ultimately, just 15 workers there voted in the election and just eight voted for unionization.

“That is just the objective evidence of what effect the anti-union campaign had,” he said.

Starbucks workers celebrate another three Buffalo-area stores voting to unionize
Tom Dinki
Starbucks workers James Skretta and Brian Murray embrace after learning the store on Transit and French roads in Depew voted to unionize March 9, 2022.

Altogether, it was a six-month wait for Walden-Anderson workers to vote. Workers said they had to withdraw their first petition filed in September and file again in November in order to prevent legal delays for the Elmwood and Genesee stores.

“We've been through everything in my store,” said Walden-Anderson barista Colin Cochran. “It's been a slog of a legal process.”

Elmwood barista Michelle Eisen praised workers for winning their elections in spite of Starbucks’ tactics.

“It shouldn't be this difficult to form a union if the vast majority of your workplace wants a union, and that is solely based on Starbucks ridiculous’ union busting tactics,” she said. “In spite of all of that, here we are with three more wins."

Like workers at the Elmwood and Genesee stores before them, workers at the three new unionized stores will now shift their attention to bargaining with Starbucks.

Meanwhile, workers at the Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street store in Buffalo are set to cast ballots this month, with a possible vote count in April.

Altogether, over 100 Starbucks stores in 26 states have now filed to hold a union vote.

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