Twin Cities Starbucks workers join union wave

Starbucks workers supporting the union drive at the Snelling and Stanford location include (L to R) Max Chang, Colton Johnson, Sohyeon Yun, Graciela Nira, Asusena Barragan, Lola Rubens and Sitra Abdulkadir.

Workers at two Starbucks locations in the Twin Cities today announced they are forming unions, becoming the first Minnesotans to join a nationwide surge of worker organizing at the world’s largest coffeehouse chain.

In letters emailed to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and hand-delivered to their store managers this morning, baristas at 300 Snelling Avenue in St. Paul and 4712 Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis demanded recognition of their bargaining units.

“We are organizing a union at the Snelling and Stanford store in Saint Paul to improve our workplace for ourselves, for members of our community, and for Starbucks as a whole,” St. Paul workers wrote.

An “overwhelming majority” of employees at each location signed cards requesting union representation, according to the union behind the Starbucks organizing campaign, Workers United. It petitioned the National Labor Relations Board today for union elections at the two Twin Cities stores.

Workers United has filed for elections at over 70 Starbucks locations nationwide in recent months. That includes the Elmwood Village café in Buffalo, N.Y., where workers succeeded in forming the first union at a corporate-owned Starbucks in the U.S.

Organizing efforts moved quickly in the St. Paul and Minneapolis Starbucks, which employ about 50 workers combined.

Lola Rubens, a barista at the Snelling location, said she and her co-workers pulled together enough signatures to file for an election in just one week. They pushed the pace, she said, in part to show solidarity with seven union supporters fired by Starbucks in Memphis Tuesday.

“The message we’re trying to send, in general, to other Starbucks workers in Memphis and Buffalo is that we’re behind them, that we support them,” Rubens said. “Nobody is in this alone anymore.”

Rubens and other Twin Cities baristas said they want to bargain for higher wages, better training opportunities and more support for employees from marginalized communities.

Most of all, Starbucks workers want a seat at the table in decisions that affect their working conditions, said Kasey Copeland, a barista at the Cedar Avenue coffeehouse. For many baristas, she added, the company’s approach during the pandemic did not seem to prioritize their health and safety.

“We really feel like a lot of the policies and procedures in place, they don’t take our perspective into account,” said Copeland, who has three years of experience with the company. “We really want to make Starbucks the best possible place it can be. We want it to live up to the mission and values they put forward, but it’s impossible for them to do that without our eyes on the ground.”

Starbucks’ values have come under scrutiny since workers in Buffalo took their union drive public last fall.

Despite its reputation as a progressive corporation, Starbucks executives unleashed an aggressive campaign to pressure Buffalo workers into voting down union representation. And the firings in Memphis suggest the company’s tactics are escalating as the union wave spreads.

“It’s just so disappointing,” Copeland said of Starbucks’ union busting. “While I didn’t necessarily expect better, I did hope for better. It’s going to be very interesting to see how long they can get away with that without losing support from their customers.”

Still, workers in the Twin Cities have the benefit of knowing what to expect in the coming weeks.

Copeland said she anticipates a parade of “district and regional managers coming into our stores and looking over our shoulders.” Rubens said she and her co-workers have already begun preparing a response, with support from Workers United, to the pressure tactics and talking points executives are likely to use in captive-audience meetings.

“We are very fortunate that there have been workers at many stores who have paved the way for us,” Rubens said. “Starbucks still believes they can throw more money and lawyers at this to make it go away. The amount of money they’re willing to put behind this is shocking.”

The anti-union campaign may be coming, but today workers were intent on celebrating some history in the making. They hope it’s just the start of bigger things to come.

“I think what we did will really get the ball rolling in Minneapolis,” Copeland said. “This is becoming a significant movement, and it will mean a lot not just for Starbucks employees, but for baristas and essential workers everywhere.”

“It’s going to be hard, but I hope no one is letting it get in the way of their joy and excitement,” Rubens added. “This is a joyous time for us, a time to speak our minds and advocate for ourselves, and Starbucks can’t take that away from us, no matter how hard they might try.”

Workers United is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Starbucks workers in the Twin Cities are organizing with support from the union’s Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board.

Workers United representative Esau Chavez urged other Starbucks workers interested forming a union to email, and to follow the campaign on social media, including @SBWorkersUnited on Twitter.

As for members of the community, placing an order at the Cedar or Snelling stores under the name “Union Yes” is a “great way to show support for these workers,” Chavez said.

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