Starbucks “partners” across the nation with dreams of unionization have been met with heavy resistance by Starbucks corporate in the form of anti-union propaganda, delays of union votes, and policy notices discouraging unionization. Santa Cruz’s Starbucks on Mission Street and on the intersection of Ocean and Water Streets are no exception.
Since three Santa Cruz Starbucks branches filed for unionization in Jan. 2022, Starbucks corporate has deployed union busting tactics to discourage partners from voting in favor of a union.
UC Santa Cruz second-year and Mission Street barista Analise Wehner said that the word “Partner” does not accurately describe her relationship with Starbucks corporation.
“There are a lot of [partners] who are more nervous, just because either lack of information or the information they are getting is from these little letters [from corporate] every week,” said Wehner. “The letters just take the unionization in the context of why it’s bad for corporate and try to convince partners to vote ‘no.’”
Starbucks refers to their employees as “partners.” This title is used by the corporation with the intention of creating a welcoming and collaborative environment, where “partners” are encouraged to speak up.
“I would say the real partnership at stores comes from the partners themselves, within each other,” Wehner added.
Corporate union busting efforts reached the front doors of the Ocean and Water Street branch as well, according to Shift Manager and UCSC student, Joseph Thompson.
Thompson explained that Starbucks requires a quick district vote for all of the stores which prevents individual branch autonomy, delaying the formation of a union.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency that protects the rights of unions and their members, requires at least 30% of workers to either sign a union card or petition for a union to warrant an election. After the petition has been submitted, the claim is investigated by a NLRB agent to ensure the election can proceed. Once the investigation is complete, the terms of the elections are agreed upon and set.
“[A quick district vote] is basically a delaying tactic that Starbucks has used to try and suppress the union vote,” Thompson said. “It’s held precedent that the National Labor Relations Board can hold single store elections at the stores, but Starbucks tried challenging that to delay and dissuade union supporters.”
Delaying the vote isn’t the only tactic Starbucks has tried to utilize. In Buffalo, NY, Cassie Fleischer was fired from her position at the Starbucks branch on Elmwood avenue. Flexibility is something Starbucks prides themselves on and claims to offer its partners, but despite this claim, Fleischer was terminated because she had acquired a full-time position somewhere else and needed more flexibility in her schedule.
According to a tweet posted by Fleischer on Feb. 20, 2022, she was a leader of the union organization and advocate for COVID-19 strikes. Following her action, Fleischer was fired due to minor and previously unenforced policy violations in the midst of unionization; she was one of many that experienced this across the country.
“There’s a lot of partners that have been [at Starbucks] for a really long time that are getting fired over really silly things,” Wehner said.
Wehner explained that these policies hadn’t commonly been enforced in the past, but with building union momentum corporate has increased union busting efforts and manager presence.
Starbucks created a Web page dedicated to providing their employees and the public with reasons not to join the union. On their page, one argument against unionization offered by Starbucks is that negotiations with a union representative may take up to a year to be settled. The corporation also provided a statement to City on a Hill Press in response to union busting allegations.
“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” said a Starbucks corporation representative. “Over and above that, all leaders are empowered to make any changes that make sense for their neighborhood, which includes shortening store hours or moving to 100 percent take-out only, which is the case in Buffalo.”
In the face of union busting at Starbucks stores across the country, the Ocean Street store remains undeterred. Thompson expressed confidence and optimism about the future of the store and the movement by looking back on the progress they have made in the last six months.
“This union is going to not only benefit all of us [at the Ocean St. branch], but, co workers across the nation who are fighting for a union now.” said Thompson
It may be the mission of Starbucks “to inspire and nurture the human spirit,” but it is their “partners,” through their collective efforts to unionize, who truly live this out “one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”
Additional Reporting by Sam Clem-Whiting and Lucy King
This article was a part of a CHP Backlog. It was originally written during the week of April 17.