Insufficient staffing. Lack of training. Better compensation and working conditions. These are the primary issues being raised by employees of three Starbucks cafes located in Buffalo, New York based on reporting from the Wall Street Journal. These types of workplace problems do not manifest exclusively from historic public health crises, but when they do, the attendant difficulties and stresses experienced by workers can be justifiably compounded. In the pursuit of remedying these problems, employees of the three Buffalo-based Starbucks have mobilized a potentially-historic effort that may result in the first unionized Starbucks coffee shops in the country. The members of the group “Starbucks Workers United” have filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board and are reportedly seeking to hold a formal vote on unionization in the near future.
The workers’ efforts have commanded the attentions of some of the highest-ranking officers of the company, with individuals such as Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus, former chief executive, and former presidential candidate, and Rossann Williams, current Starbucks North America president, traveling to these Starbucks locations over the recent weeks. These visits were ostensibly motivated by the company’s desire to engage with the employees, hear their concerns, and examine the working conditions. However, the company’s efforts are reportedly receiving mixed reviews. The company has publicly acknowledged that it respects their employees’ right to organize, but it has also taken the position that its benefits are superior to those that could be obtained by unionization. Further, the company contends that the three locations cannot unionize on a “café-by-café basis”.
Unfortunately, the difficulties these employees are facing are all too real and all too common, and not just at cafes, but at businesses in the restaurant, entertainment, and hospitality industries generally; a twisted parting gift of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, paradoxically, given the current labor market for these positions as a result of the pandemic, these workers may also possess unique leverage in this pursuit to organize against an employer the size of Starbucks.
Workers in some Buffalo cafes cite concerns about pay and staffing; Starbucks says it is boosting wages and benefits and a union isn’t needed