For many avid Starbucks customers in Santa Cruz their coffee tasted the same as any other day on May 11, even though  there was a fresh sense of victory that surrounded some of their branches. The branch on the corner of Mission and Dufour, and the Ocean Street branch came together to vote in an NLRB-sanctioned election about whether they wanted to unionize. The results were profound for Starbucks workers United with two clear victories in Santa Cruz. 

The union was won at both branches by a landslide. The Mission and Dufour branch had a 15-2 result in favor of the union, while Ocean Street had a 13-1 outcome also in favor of the union. 

“From what I’ve noticed, baristas are happier,” said Joe Thompson, lead union organizer for California Starbucks. “They feel that we overcame a huge challenge, which was this union vote, and we’re feeling good, feeling ready for the next step.”

The two Santa Cruz branches are the first Starbucks in California to win their union vote. The landmark victory is just a small step for Starbucks Workers United, as they continue to work with other California branches to achieve that same success. 

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency that protects the rights of unions and their members, requires at least 30 percent 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.

The NLRB has filed lawsuits against Starbucks corporate for retaliation and unfair labor practices. According to Thompson, Starbucks has not upheld the process laid out by the NLRB by calling for a Santa Cruz district wide vote instead of a branch individual vote. 

“We will bargain in good faith with the union that represents partners in the store that voted in favor of union representation,” said Starbucks corporate representative Mery M. “We have fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB and encouraged our partners to exercise their right to vote.” 

Starbucks branches in Santa Cruz experienced the union busting tactics that corporate applied across all states. One branch in particular that experienced heavy resistance was the branch on Mission and Dufour Street.

Emily Wheeler, a shift supervisor at the Mission and Dufour branch, explained the types of union busting tactics taking place before the election, and how Starbucks corporate tried to block their victory. 

“There was just a lot of misinformation like blatant lies, and just things that the district manager was not really allowed to be saying to baristas,” Wheeler said.  

Some of the union busting tactics that Starbucks have employed were meetings with district managers that were not specified to be optional. Other types of tactics include messages about how the union is bad and making union votes district-wide instead of branch-specific. 

Amidst the adversity of union busting, these two stores held out by communicating and getting ahead of Starbucks’ corporate tactics. Securing the union vote has provided a beacon of hope to other Starbucks branches in California that unionization is possible. 

Starbucks Workers United has not had consistent success with unionization. On May 13, two more Starbucks branches in Los Angeles County unionized with a 24-1 victory in Lakewood and a 13-0 victory in Long Beach. On May 23, two stores in L.A. County held an election with a 2-11 loss in Los Alamitos and a 5-0 victory in Downtown L.A.. 

Thompson explained that although the Starbucks Workers United organization is being met with union busting tactics, they were still able to overcome this challenge. 

“For me, it’s a monumental victory for all workers,” Thompson said. “What workers need to realize is this is possible, and anyone can do it.”