Workers at a St. Paul Starbucks voted to unionize, making it the first store in Minnesota history to do so. The results of the union election at the Snelling Avenue store were announced today, with a final tally of 14 to 1 — elections at four other stores in the metropolitan area will follow in the coming months, as the nationwide wave of unionization at Starbucks continue to gain momentum. Minnesota Starbucks workers will unionize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
“I’m thrilled – very happy that we won,” says Marshall Steele, barista at Snelling Avenue Starbucks. “It’s amazing to write this story, that we’re the first Starbucks in Minnesota to unionize. Plus, there’s a sense of ‘on the shoulders of giants,’ because we have both labor movements happening right now and a very strong history of labor movements in Minnesota that have been successfully deleted.
Unionized workers at Starbucks stores in Minnesota are seeking better wages, including measures such as adding credit card tipping options and guaranteed weekly hours. They also call for enhanced training on diversity, equity and inclusion. Steele says that although workers complete a few online programs each year, enforcement of their principles is often left to the discretion of managers. For example, Steele alleges that even after pronoun training, they and other workers are routinely abused by management.
“They go for such a specific type of employee, the way they brand themselves – they want people who are progressive, who care about others, who care about things like the Black Lives Matter movement and the queer community says Kasey Copeland, an employee of a Cedar Avenue Starbucks who was among the first two to unionize. Its election results will be announced on May 2. “Now they’re really being tested on whether or not they’re going to respect that.”
A broader goal for unionized workers is to have store policies and practices codified in a contract: workers say too many decisions are left to the discretion of managers. Copeland, for example, says she used to work at a store where she just didn’t get her breaks. She and Steele say workers in Minnesota were inspired to organize for greater collective power by the monumental union victory at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, which was the first Starbucks to successfully unionize in December 2021.
Starbucks has been largely inhospitable to fledgling unions: U.S. Labor Board officials last week sued Starbucks on the allegations of union reprisals; Activist employees in both Tennessee and Arizona say they were fired for their labor organizing. A Starbucks spokesperson said the company “listens and learns” from unionized workers, but remains “clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, with no union between us”, despite respecting the right of workers to organize, and will follow the National Labor Relations Board process.
Steele and Copeland say that so far Starbucks workers in Minnesota have not faced direct retaliation. However, Steele alleges documents sharing anti-union messages and misinformation were posted at the Snelling Avenue store: One document, they say, claimed union dues would be $10 to $15 a week. Another reportedly showed what appear to be fake pro-union tweets from the Starbucks Worker United Twitter account, with replies from a We Are One Starbucks Twitter account – which appears not to actually exist on Twitter – refuting them. (Eater reviewed a photo of the flyer.) A Starbucks spokesperson said “any allegations of union busting are categorically false.”
“I think Starbucks — with the number of stores running for office or in the process of having their elections — is moving away from direct worker retaliation, such as the firing of organizing committee members,” Steele says. “What they found is that it galvanizes other people to take up the cause and ends up martyring people. They moved on to very heavy and pervasive myths and misinformation campaigns.
The national wave of unionization has clearly shaken Starbucks: in March, the company reported Howard Schultz, historically anti-union CEO. Schulz made the headlines for facing a pro-union barista in Long Beach in April.
Esau Chavez, a Workers United organizer, says the wave of Starbucks unionization is one of the most remarkable labor movements he has ever seen. Chavez says the surge is part of a broader push in the business and industrial sectors to bolster organized labor, as corporations continue to consolidate money and power. “Starbucks — as they say in the organization, it’s hot, it’s very hot. There’s not a lot of persuasion we do,” Chavez said. “Corporate profits are soaring, but workers’ wages are mostly stagnating, barely rising. It has taken a long time for the working class to begin to rise again since the Powell memorandum was released and corporations began to hone their power in government. The unions and the working class have really taken a beating in the last 40 or 50 years.
Unions at Starbucks join similar efforts by other coffee and craft beverage workers in Minnesota. Workers at Minneapolis-based Peace Coffee recently announced their intention to unionize, following in the footsteps of Tattersall distillation, Stillheart Distillery, lawless distillationand Fair State Brewingwho all successfully unionized in 2020. Other efforts failed: In the fall of 2020, workers at Spyhouse Coffee finally voted against unionization, and the workers of Surly Brewing Co. came just a short vote.
“That famous lie about fast food or coffee shop workers being like ‘It’s not hard work, it’s not real work’, when simultaneously it’s one of the most constant and most pressured parts of food service, where you deal with people every day,” Steele says. “We can no longer accept that Starbucks or the coffee companies aren’t paying us for hard work or improving We are getting to a point where these contradictions are becoming somewhat untenable for people working in these industries.