‘We plan on winning’: Employees at second Starbucks in Salt Lake County files for union election

A shift supervisor at the Salt Lake CityStarbucks expects employees to vote nearly unanimously to unionize.

FILE - This Oct. 27, 2020, file photo shows a sign at a Starbucks Coffee store in south Seattle. As of May 2, 2022, two Starbucks in Salt Lake County have now decided to start the process to unionize. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Employees at a second Starbucks in Salt Lake County have announced their intentions to unionize and believe they have more than enough support among staff.

On Monday, the workers at the 421 East 400 South location in Salt Lake City filed a petition for a union election and sent a letter to interim CEO Howard Schultz explaining their decision, which primarily hinged on the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and retail employees’ fluctuating work hours and stagnant wages.

“We were on the front lines every single day of the COVID-19 pandemic,” organizers wrote. “We put our health and possibly even our lives at risk for a company that it felt, quite frankly, couldn’t care less.”

The letter characterizes Starbucks as a “greedy” corporation that prioritizes profit over workers’ safety, all while hiding under a “progressive” guise. It also highlights the company’s recent “unprecedented growth,” which they say enriched leadership on the backs of employees’ labor.

“We felt the strain of this growth but saw nothing in return while our CEO at the time Kevin Johnson received a pay increase of 39%,” the letter reads. “That money was the result of our labor and we have decided that it is time our value is taken seriously.”

A Starbucks spokesperson told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday that the company saw record increases in business results during the fiscal year ending in 2021, and the pay increases for executives were consistent with the company’s pay for performance philosophy and overall compensation program design.

They also reiterated Starbucks’ respect for the unionization process and the desires of its employees.

“[I] just really want to drive home the point that we respect our partners’ voices and their votes,” the spokesperson said. “And, you know, we’ve been clear that we respect all of our partners’ legal right to organize. And we’ve also been clear in our belief that we’re better together as partners without a union between us.”

Kit Grob, a shift supervisor at the store, said she hopes unionizing will give workers a chance to negotiate their compensations and allow them to provide input on future decisions. She said she is focusing on issues such as higher pay, better health care benefits and tenured raises.

The idea of unionizing, Grob said, has been on her mind since she watched the Starbucks Workers United movement begin in Buffalo, New York. The Salt Lake City store will now join a growing number of locations that have fought for elections — including one in Cottonwood Heights that filed in March.

In 2021, Starbucks operated approximately 9,000 stores in the U.S., according to data from Statista. More than 200 of those locations have sought to unionize, and so far 40 have successfully voted to do so, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal. Those numbers continue to grow by the day.

Meanwhile, the battle between Starbucks Workers United and company leadership has become increasingly ugly. Starbucks leadership says organizers are harassing customers and employees to further their union efforts, while Starbucks Workers United says the company is hindering them by firing pro-union employees, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Starbucks is a multimillion-dollar corporation that tries to pride itself on working in partnership with its employees, all while silencing the workers and denying them their right to union representation and a collective voice,” Workers United International Vice President Kathy Hanshew wrote in a statement. “Starbucks calls its employees ‘partners’, but it is abundantly clear that this so-called partnership is one of convenience for the company, that leaves many employee concerns unheard.”

Workers at the Salt Lake City location do not believe their vote will be particularly close. The store has 26 workers, Grob said, of which 25 have signed union cards indicating their support to vote for unionization. The one holdout is an employee who is leaving soon and didn’t want to get wrapped up in the unionization process, Grob added.

“Our goal here is to let them [Starbucks] know that we are incredibly organized, we are incredibly motivated, and that we have overwhelming support here at the store,” Grob said. “... So any kind of union-busting efforts that they might try to pull off at our store are just kind of going to be a waste of their time and money.”

To hold an election, the National Labor Relations Board requires 30% of employees to sign union cards or petitions. And all that is required for a vote to pass is a simple majority of employees indicating they wish to unionize.

Grob said she expects the election to happen in a month or two. “Hopefully sooner than later,” she adds.

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