Northwest Starbucks workers prepare to bargain


New organizing has slowed at Northwest Starbucks stores in recent months, and the campaign is entering a new phase: In Oregon and Washington, union shops have bargaining dates set throughout November and early December.

In Oregon, negotiation dates are set for stores at 2328 W Burnside St. in Portland, where workers voted to unionize in May, and 1895 Franklin Blvd. in Eugene, which went union in April. Four stores in Washington also have dates over the next few weeks.

Altogether, there are now 23 union Starbucks locations in Oregon and 16 in Washington. Each is represented by Workers United, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

About a dozen workers from Northwest union shops are part of a regional bargaining team that’s been preparing for negotiations, said Quentin Kanta, a former Starbucks barista and volunteer organizer with the union campaign. Contract proposals are coming from Starbucks Workers United’s national bargaining committee, which surveyed workers in each region and crafted a set of non-economic proposals. They include language requiring just cause for discipline and termination, and relaxing store dress codes (which Starbucks recently did for non-union shops). Altogether, the union will be putting forward 15 non-economic proposals from the national committee, which is also in the early stages of developing economic proposals.

Kanta says the first local sessions will focus on setting bargaining ground rules. That’s assuming they actually move forward as planned. Elsewhere in the country, early negotiations have been unproductive. For example, workers at the Buffalo, New York, store—which was the first to unionize—held an in-person bargaining session on Oct. 24. After just two minutes, Starbucks attorneys from law firm Littler Mendelson left the room, upset that the union bargaining team had some workers participating remotely via Zoom. Videos shared on social media show that Littler lawyers returned hours later, presented a written proposal that no one be allowed to participate virtually, and left when the union team didn’t agree. The same thing happened at five sessions across the country that day.

Organizing slows

In Oregon, new organizing at Starbucks has halted, at least in terms of filing election requests with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The last election petition to be filed was in July at a Springfield store, and ballots were counted Sept. 20. There are currently no pending union elections at Oregon Starbucks locations. [Update: On Nov. 1, workers at a Hillsboro, Oregon location filed for a union election, making that the 25th store to file in the state.]

Barista Gracie Weidemaier on strike outside the Westmoreland Starbucks on Oct. 22.

Kanta says there were a number of “hot shops” (stores where workers were eager to organize) early this year. That fueled the fast pace of new organizing, with 23 union victories in nine months. With those shops unionized, Workers United may have to turn to more traditional organizing campaigns. During the first part of this year, the union had just one staff organizer working remotely to advise Starbucks workers in Oregon and Washington. The union recently hired a second staffer for this region, based in Seattle. In Washington, no new stores petitioned for a union election all summer, though three more stores filed for elections this fall.

Despite the slower pace of new organizing, energy remains high at some union shops. Early on a Saturday morning in late October, workers at the Westmoreland store (7001 SE Milwaukie Ave. in Portland) launched a one-day strike. The store never opened that day. Instead, workers and supporters gathered on the highly visible corner to decry Starbucks’ labor law violations to passersby.

Workers say Starbucks’ district manager changed store hours, which should trigger union bargaining. Starbucks gave raises at non-union shops over the summer but not to union workers, said Westmoreland barista Gracie Weidemaier. The company also added the option to tip via debit or credit card, but not at union shops. Those are common charges nationwide at union Starbucks stores, and they’ve generated several formal legal complaints from the NLRB.



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