Workers at Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle vote to unionize

Workers at a second Seattle Starbucks location have joined the nationwide wave of unionization at the coffee giant – this time at one of the company’s flagship roastery locations.

Employees at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, at Pike Street and Melrose Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, voted 38-27 to unionize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. About 100 workers were eligible to vote, and three ballots were challenged. The National Labor Relations Board announced the vote count Thursday.

The vote shows “We’re really just hitting the gas with this movement,” said barista Liz Duran.

Starbucks said in a statement Thursday, “We will respect the process and will bargain in good faith. We hope that the union does the same. ”

The vote follows a unanimous vote to unionize at another Capitol Hill location last month, the first in the latest unionization wave to happen in the company’s hometown. A handful of other Seattle locations have also announced union campaigns, and workers at two locations walked off the job last week.

Nationwide, workers at more than 200 company-owned Starbucks locations have filed for union elections or announced they plan to unionize. About two dozen stores have voted to unionize, and two have voted no. Workers at some licensed Starbucks locations in airports and grocery stores are already unionized.

Starbucks has more than 8,000 company-owned stores. But the Starbucks Reserve Roasteries are a less common and more specialized company offering. Starbucks has just six of them around the globe, calling them “theatrical, experimental shrines to coffee passion.”

The sprawling Capitol Hill location opened in 2014 – complete with a “Coffee Experience Bar” and pizzeria – as Starbucks sought to double its annual revenue and attract customers throughout the day. It has since become an often-crowded tourist draw.

Employees say working at the Roastery comes with increased expectations and responsibilities, but without the pay to match.

The employees work in a “completely full-service environment,” said barista Brennen Collins. “We’re busing tables. We’re crafting a story. … We’re generally making as much as the Starbucks core, while also having all these increased expectations – all on top of working inside of a pandemic. ”

In a February letter to then-CEO Kevin Johnson, workers at the roastery wrote that they wanted a “safer, fairer, more inclusive, more transparent and more welcoming” workplace.

“Especially through this pandemic, we have encountered intense and unique struggles in our workplace,” wrote the workers, whom the company refers to as partners. “Through it all, we have been flexible and resilient to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic. However, our concerns and our safety have not been at the forefront of decision making that directly affects our partners. ”

Starbucks said in a statement that workers at roasteries do not take on more responsibilities than workers at other locations. “To suggest one partner takes on more responsibility isn’t true to who we are as partners,” spokesperson Sarah Albanesi said. “Jobs and roles are different but all partners carry the same pride and expectations for their individual roles.”

Duran, who has previously worked in union workplaces, said unionization offers protection against discrimination. “Being a queer individual, having those layers of protections is something that was really valued,” Duran said. “That’s the big core of unionizing: having others there to have your back.”

Earlier this month, the union won another election at a Reserve Roastery in New York City.

After the Seattle vote count wrapped up, workers who had gathered to watch the count at Seattle Central College cheered and then quickly turned to business, reminding each other of their Weingarten rights to have a union rep in investigatory meetings that can lead to discipline.

Like at other stores that have unionized, employees at the Roastery heard anti-union talking points from managers, Collins told his coworkers.

“It’s understandable that some people are going to be scared and that’s OK,” Collins said. “The union is still going to represent people even if they voted no.”

Starbucks and the union have clashed for months, with the union accusing the company of wrongly punishing pro-union workers and Starbucks this week alleging union organizers blocked entrances to stores in Denver and Phoenix and intimidated employees who didn’t support unionizing, CNBC reported.

Since Howard Schultz returned to the company as interim CEO this month, he has criticized unionization efforts and begun discussing improved benefits for employees that he said could not legally be extended to those who voted to unionize. While it’s true companies can’t unilaterally change working conditions without bargaining once employees have unionized, employers can ask workers if they want the benefits.

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