AVANTI IS NOT a menu choice Starbucks is ever likely to add to “vente” and “grande”. But avanti—moving forward—is on the menu for more and more Starbucks workers.
Starbucks is a big deal to take on. More than 383,000 people work for the Starbucks Corporation worldwide, including 23,000 in Canada in 1,400 stores. None of the workers in company-owned stores in North America belonged to a union. Canadians changed that.
In June 2021, some 30 employees at a Starbucks drive-thru in Victoria, B.C., voted to make their store the first, and only, corporate-owned Starbucks in North America to unionize.
Since then, the drive by Starbucks workers in Canada and the USA to join unions keeps moving forward.
Breakthrough in Alberta
On July 12 2022 workers at a Starbucks in Calgary joined the United Steelworkers (USW) to make their store the first Starbucks union shop in Alberta.
Two months earlier two stores in two cities in British Columbia (Surrey and Langley) voted to join USW.
A further five stores in Lethbridge, Alberta, await word on certification.
Jacob Dickenscheid, a worker involved in the union drive in Calgary, told journalist Jeremy Appel that the main purpose of the union drive was to allow workers to flex their collective muscle.
“Thankfully, there was a core group of us who were really on board and wanted to let people know about what this could mean for us, so the only real struggle came from finding the time to get to talk to everyone,” he said.
The movement to unionize Starbucks has been largely grassroots-driven. Each shop has 20-30 workers, and organizing takes place on a store-by-store basis, among smaller groups of people who already know each other and often have strong personal ties.
The strength of the workers' personal relationships make it much harder for corporate to break them up. Moreover, since each store has to form its own union, workers play a critical role in negotiations. This means that important decisions come from store workers themselves.
In May, the company attempted to make an example of the Victoria location—which at the time was the only unionized Starbucks in Canada. The company declared that the unionized workers were to be excluded from announced pay raises because the raise was not in their union contract.
Starbuck’s move to punish workers in Victoria was made right around the time that the five Lethbridge stores filed for certification. But the company move backfired. In the two months since sending out that email to the Victoria location the Starbucks workers at stores in Surrey, Langley, and the Calgary locations unionized.
Next up is Lethbridge, where all five Starbucks in the city are applying for certification. USW organizer Pablo Guerra told the Globe and Mail that the company’s threats to close down unionized locations would be stymied by a unionization sweep of all the town’s locations.
“We thought, OK, if we can get all these workers from five stores together as a group to vote in favor of unionizing, [the company] can’t really use closing down as a tactic,” says Guerra.
Meanwhile in the USA
As of August 16, workers at 320 Starbucks stores in the USA have filed for union elections, and 220 stores have voted to unionize.
Hundreds of allegations of misconduct by Starbucks related to the union campaign include claims of shutting down stores to bust unions, firing at least 75 workers in retaliation for union organizing and intimidating and threatening workers for unionizing.
Workers at Starbucks have held over 55 different strikes in at least 17 states in the US in recent months.
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