Starbucks workers in three locations in Buffalo, New York, have voted on Dec. 9 to unionize, the first U.S. stores to be represented by a union in the company’s 50-year history.
This comes after the majority of ballots counted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from among the 100 Starbucks workers eligible to vote were in favor unionization.
The employees will now join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
The unionization push in New York has the potential to encourage similar efforts for about 235,000 employees in 9,000 U.S. locations at the second-biggest chain store in America.
Starbucks attempted to put a halt to the unionization drive, but failed after an NLRB decision on Dec. 7 decided in the workers’ favor.
A Starbucks in Mesa, Arizona, has filed petitions with the NLRB to form its own union, which will be decided on Dec. 10.
“We have no accountability right now. We have no say,” Casey Moore, a barista who has been working at one of the Buffalo area Starbucks for around six months, said to AP. “With a union, we will actually be able to sit down at the table and say, ‘This is what we want.’”
Increased use of mobile order apps at Starbucks and other food services has skyrocketed due to the pandemic.
The baristas say that they are organizing in part due to the surging workload created by the company’s mobile app, which has left them overworked since the pandemic.
Many Starbucks employees complain that they cannot limit the number of mobile orders per hour, leading to major bottlenecks in orders.
The baristas want more of a say on how the stores are managed and how the technology should be utilized.
Starbucks responded that store managers can simply turn off mobile orders for their locations temporarily, allowing the app to direct customers to other nearby stores that have less overflow.
“Technology was made for customers and not for employees,” said Moore. “Without a union, we haven’t been able to voice how the technology could also work for us.”
The company said it has long offered the most generous benefits in the café industry since its humble founding as a small coffee shop in 1971, including health care coverage for part-time workers and college tuition reimbursements.
In a recent filing with the SEC, the chain said that “if a significant portion of our employees were to become unionized, our labor costs could increase and our business could be negatively affected by other requirements and expectations that could increase our costs, change our employee culture, decrease our flexibility, and disrupt our business.”
The coffee chain says its current average wage in the United States is more than $12 an hour, with more than half of its employees earning more than $15 an hour.
To stave off further discontent during the pandemic, Starbucks has said that it has implemented two wage increases in the past 18 months.
The company announced around Thanksgiving that all of its U.S. workers would earn at least $15 and up to $23 per hour by next summer.