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Business/Economy

Starbucks Workers United says almost a third of Buffalo workers participating in union vote are ineligible

Starbucks Workers United
Tom Dinki
/
WBFO News
Michelle Eisen and other Starbucks Workers United members speak to the media Dec. 1, 2021 at the Workers United Office in Buffalo.

Starbucks Workers United, the group of baristas trying to make Buffalo-area locations the coffee giant’s first unionized stores in the U.S., says almost a third of workers participating in the union vote are ineligible.

Organizing workers, speaking Wednesday at the Workers United office in Buffalo, said about 100 workers across three locations received mail-in ballots, which are set to be counted next week, but that only about 70 are actually eligible.

They claim Starbucks added about 30 workers, both new hires and transfers from other locations, to the three voting stores in just the last month, in order to dilute the number of pro-union workers.

These new workers, according to Starbucks Workers United, were not on the three stores’ payrolls prior to the October cutoff date set by the National Labor Relations Board, but that Starbucks included them on the eligible voter list anyway. According to NLRB rules, the employer submits the list of eligible voters.

“So [Starbucks has] actually padded the vote within an additional 30 people who they say should be able to vote in these units, when they really should not be able to,” said Michelle Eisen, a member of the Starbucks Workers United organizing committee who works at the Elmwood Avenue location in Buffalo.

Some of the new hires may have been sent to the three stores because they’re unsympathetic to the union, Starbucks Workers United alleged. The new hires were reportedly hired by Starbucks recruiters, not store managers, and then trained “in a closed-door environment” at the new training location at Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga.

“I think the purpose of taking the hiring out of the store managers’ hands was to be able to vet these new employees and to be able to get them into the anti-union meetings before they even entered our stores,” Eisen said. “So I think that there's a very good chance that the reason they were sent to the stores they were sent to was [because they will likely vote no to the union].”

A Starbucks spokesperson in an email denied the allegation, but did not elaborate any further. The company has previously denied other union-busting allegations from Starbucks Workers United.

A NLRB spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of ineligible voters, but did point to their process for reviewing objections to ballots, which could include a hearing and a final decision made by a regional director. Either party can challenge a voter’s eligibility, even if they didn’t challenge it during the pre-election hearing, according to NLRB rules.

Eisen said Starbucks Workers United does plan to object to the new workers’ ballots after the NLRB counts the ballots on Dec. 9.

The three stores currently voting are located on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, Genesee Street in Cheektowaga and Camp Road in Hamburg.

The NLRB will hold a hearing Thursday on whether to allow three more Buffalo-area Starbucks to hold their own union votes. Those stores are located on Sheridan Drive in Amherst, Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga, and Transit Road in Depew.

An Arizona Starbucks also recently filed to hold a vote.

Starbucks Workers United says padding the unionizing stores with more workers is just one of the company’s alleged anti-union tactics. Top Starbucks executives, including North America Vice President Rossann Williams and COO John Culver, have been visiting Buffalo-area locations over the last few months. Former CEO Howard Schultz spoke to Buffalo-area workers last month.

“Some of them are on the floor in their nice Armani suits, getting ice and taking out the trash and things like that,” said Casey Moore, whose Williamsville location has yet to file for a union vote. “They're a constant presence. ... My coworkers have described it as feeling like you're a fish in a fishbowl, and you're just being watched as they kind of move around you.”

Despite the company’s tactics, workers said Wednesday they remain optimistic about the vote.

“The company’s position in this campaign has been about intimidation. It's been about threatening. And I think that we're at a position now where we're saying, ‘We're not going to stand for that,’” said William Westlake, who works at the Camp Road location in Hamburg. “And we're really looking forward to this vote that's coming up.”

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