A pro-union poster is seen on a lamp pole outside Starbucks’ Broadway and Denny location in Seattle’s Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on March 22, 2022.
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A second Starbucks cafe in Mesa, Arizona, has voted to unionize, continuing the coffee chain’s losing streak as its baristas organize.
On Tuesday, workers at a Starbucks location in Seattle voted unanimously in favor of a union, dealing a blow to the company in its own hometown.
The Crismon and Southern location in Mesa is now the eighth company-owned U.S. Starbucks cafe to vote to unionize. That tally includes another Mesa location and six Buffalo, New York-area stores. Only one location that has held an election has voted against unionizing under Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
The growing union push will be one of the challenges that incoming interim CEO Howard Schultz will have to tackle when he assumes the role on April 4. During Schultz’s prior stints as chief executive, Starbucks gained a reputation as a generous and progressive employer, a position that is now in jeopardy as the union gains momentum and workers share their grievances.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Starbucks earlier in March for allegedly retaliating against two Phoenix employees who were trying to organize. The union has also alleged that Starbucks engaged in union-busting across many of its stores that have filed for elections. The company has denied those accusations.
The initial Buffalo victories for the union have galvanized other locations nationwide to organize. More than 150 company-owned Starbucks cafes have filed for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board.
Starbucks isn’t the only company that has seen its workers organize in recent months, although results have been mixed. Earlier this month, REI employees at their Manhattan flagship store voted to form the company’s first union in the U.S. On Thursday, workers at a Virginia Hershey factory voted against unionizing. And Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse are casting their ballots now on whether to form a union, with a second nearby warehouse slated to have its election in April.
Only a small fraction of the Starbucks’ overall footprint has been swept up in the union push. The company operates nearly 9,000 locations in the U.S.
At the Crismon and Southern location, 11 workers voted in favor of forming a union, with three voting against. One ballot was challenged, so it wasn’t counted as part of the official tally.
The NLRB’s regional director will now have to certify the ballots, a process that could take up to a week. Then the union faces its next real challenge: negotiating a contract with Starbucks. Labor laws don’t require that the employer and union reach a collective bargaining agreement, and contract discussions can drag on for years.
At Starbucks’ annual shareholders meeting last week, Chair Mellody Hobson said the company understands and recognizes its workers’ right to organize.
“We are also negotiating in good faith, and we want a constructive relationship with the union,” she said.
She said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” earlier that day that Starbucks “made some mistakes” when asked about the union push.
“When you think about, again, why we’re leaning on Howard in this moment, it’s that connection with our people where we think he’s singularly capable of engaging with our people in a way that will make a difference,” she said.