Starbucks Workers Union Wins Second Election In Buffalo Area

The campaign to organize the world’s largest coffee chain is gaining steam.


The federal labor board announced Monday that a burgeoning union for Starbucks workers won a second union election at a store in Western New York, another sign of momentum behind the closely watched effort to organize the coffee chain.


The National Labor Relations Board oversaw a series of three elections in the Buffalo area late last year. The union, Starbucks Workers United, won one election and lost another, but the outcome was unclear in the third because the union challenged the eligibility of certain workers to cast ballots, saying they were employed at another store.


A board spokesperson said the agency determined after a ballot review that eligible workers had voted 15-9 in favor of unionizing at that store, on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga, outside Buffalo. Starbucks still has the option to appeal that determination, but the board does not have to grant the request.

“After months of anti-union meetings, intimidation tactics, and intense pressure to vote ‘no,’ we can finally say we won our union,” Caroline Lerczak, a shift supervisor at the Genesee Street store, said in a statement. “I would love to see Starbucks show some accountability for their actions and come to the bargaining table to negotiate with us now.”


The final tally means the union is two for three in its campaign so far, with several more votes on the horizon. Starbucks Workers United, which is part of Workers United, an affiliate of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, has filed for other elections at stores in New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arizona, Illinois, Colorado and Washington state, though the board has not scheduled many of them yet.


Starbucks has had union workers at some of its licensed locations for years, but none at its roughly 9,000 corporate-owned locations run by the Seattle-based company. Although the workers who have recently unionized make up a tiny fraction of Starbucks’ U.S. workforce of 220,000, union supporters are hopeful the effort will continue to spread to other stores around the country.


The organized workers must now bargain a first contract, a process that can be notoriously difficult if a company chooses to drag out negotiations. Starbucks recently acknowledged the union’s victory in the first election and promised to bargain in good faith, but it has continued to oppose organizing efforts at other locations.


The company sent outside managers and executives to the Buffalo area for weeks during the union campaign, holding meetings to discourage unionization. Union supporters called it a union-busting campaign and accused the company of illegal intimidation, but the company has denied breaking the law.


The company has petitioned the labor board to include more Starbucks stores in the union elections, a common tactic by employers meant to dilute the union’s support in sympathetic stores. But so far the labor board has rejected those legal efforts by the company, including Starbucks’ latest bid to stop an election from moving forward in Mesa, Arizona.


The union called that ruling by the board “another victory for partners in Arizona.”


“When is Starbucks going to respect the right of their partners to organize & respect decades of legal precedent?” the union asked.