Workers United: Starbucks union wave spreads to Eugene

Inspired by a union election win at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, baristas in Eugene want a union too. | PHOTO BY SUZI STEFFEN


EUGENE, ORE.—Janessa Voyce, a first-year student at University of Oregon, didn’t expect to get involved with a union drive when she started working at the Starbucks at 29th and Willamette in Eugene. 

But when organizers asked if she’d sign a union card, Voyce, like everyone else in the store at the time, said yes.

The work is challenging. Morning shift means arriving at 5 a.m. to prepare for the early rush after the store opens at 5:30. 

“There’s quite a volume of things to learn and to hold in your brain,” Voyce says. Voyce would love to see fellow workers—the company calls them all “partners”—have more time for training. 

But the main reason Voyce signed a card with Workers United, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was that she wants Starbucks to hear her voice, and the voices of her coworkers. Voyce worked in food service before and thinks her store is well-run, but wants to make sure when decisions get made, workers have real input.

The store’s baristas know what they’re doing. 

“We have three partners who have been with the company for more than 10 years, and we have several who have been with the company for more than five years,” says barista Ky Fireside, a member of the union organizing committee at the store. “We’ve been around. We’ve seen it all, and we’d like to be partners in more than name.” Fireside’s passion to help the store unionize emerged after hearing about union drives in several Buffalo, New York, stores: “Originally I wasn’t super-interested, until corporate started really hard with the union-busting, and then I realized other stores were getting on board, and it wasn’t just something for Buffalo.”

Fireside contacted Workers United on Jan. 1. It took just three days to collect the necessary signatures at the Eugene store. Workers announced majority support for the union on Jan. 6, and since Starbucks chose not to recognize the union, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set a hearing for Jan. 28 to work out the details of an as-yet-unscheduled union election at the store. 

Starbucks’ corporate strategy across the country has been to claim that individual stores aren’t appropriate as bargaining units, but NLRB regional offices have struck down that argument several times since October 2021. Starbucks has also closed stores to hold what the company calls “listening sessions”—which Fireside says are attempts to divide workers from the union. 

“They try to tell us, ‘The union’s a third party, don’t let them come between us,’ Fireside says. “But I’m like, ‘Who do you think the union is? It’s not separate: The union is us.’”

“We’ve already seen so much support from our customers,” says 29th and Willamette Starbucks worker Quentin Piccolo. Customers, including regulars, have been “coming in and saying ‘Union Strong’ or tipping us without ordering anything,” Piccolo says. “It’s in the best interests of everybody to have workers feeling like they’re respected.”

“I knew that there is a real communal aspect to [organizing], but it is really just shocking how many people are like, ‘I heard about you unionizing, good luck!’”Voyce says. “There are so many people telling us that they care.”

What Starbucks top brass is saying: No union, please

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we do not want a union between us as partners.” – Rossann Williams, Starbucks U.S./Canada Retail Division president, Dec. 20, 2021

What Starbucks workers are doing: Signing union cards

Since Dec. 8 and 9, when Starbucks workers at two stores in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize, workers at nearly a dozen other stores around the United States have filed for union elections: 

  • Brookline, Mass. 12/13
  • Allston, Mass.12/13
  • Seattle, Wash. 12/20
  • Knoxville, Tenn. 12/27
  • Louisville, Colo.  12/30
  • Chicago, Ill. 1/3
  • Eugene, Ore. 1/7
  • Cleveland, Ohio 1/10
  • Chicago, Ill. 1/10
  • Tallahassee, Fla. 1/11
  • Hopewell, N.J.  1/11

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