Workers at the Starbucks across from Town Square Mall have won their vote to unionize.
On Aug. 24, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counted mail-in ballots submitted by workers at the Starbucks on 2540 Vestal Pkwy. In a vote of nine in favor and four against, with two challenged ballots, the workers successfully formed a union, making them the 25th Starbucks store in New York State to unionize and 226th nationally. The process behind the store’s unionization began in May, when workers filed for a union election with the intention to join Starbucks Workers United, a union organizing committee.
Alex Yeager, a former worker and union organizer at the Vestal Starbucks, is a graduate student enrolled in the student affairs and administration program at Binghamton University. Yeager described overstaffing, poor communication and inconsistent hours as some of the reasons that her store pushed for unionization, despite the risks she felt came with it.
“A lot of the things you hear about union-busting are true,” Yeager said. “My hours were getting cut, I was accused of harassment and I was in constant meetings with managers and my district manager in which I was persuaded to stop the union effort and threatened with the loss of my job and benefits. They said I was being selfish and putting everyone in jeopardy when that just isn’t true.”
Yeager has since been discharged from the company for “constructive reasons.”
In support of the Vestal Starbucks workers, a “sip-in” event was held on Sept. 4, organized by the BU chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA). At the event, students and workers gathered to show support for the union effort and collect signatures from customers who supported the movement.
Noelle Dutch, chair of the YDSA and a senior majoring in political science, wrote in an email that she feels, as students who have mostly recently moved to the area, it’s important to show up for workers in the Binghamton community.
“I want fellow students to realize the importance of the working class to the functioning of a society.” Dutch wrote in an email. “Every good or service we consume is put into our hands by our friends, family and neighbors. We can determine the value of our work through organizing, whether you work part-time on campus to pay through college, full-time at Starbucks to provide for your family or with a career in the field you enter once you graduate.”
Kayla Blado, the director and press secretary for the NLRB’s Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, stated that 324 unfair labor practice charges have been filed against Starbucks since national union efforts began.
“The NLRB Regional Offices have conducted 295 Starbucks ballot counts,” Blado wrote in an email. “Out of this, 236 have voted for a union, 52 have voted against a union and seven are challenge-determinative. Of the 236, 222 have been certified and the employer must begin bargaining in good faith with the union.”
According to Starbucks Workers United, over 100 workers involved in union activity have been wrongfully fired by Starbucks over the past several months. This includes seven Starbucks workers in Memphis, Tennessee, whose case was successful in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, when the court reinforced the lower court’s order to rehire them.
On Sept. 1, Heather Sullivan, an employee of two years at the Vestal Starbucks store, was fired by Starbucks for having a pocket knife with her. In a statement from Starbucks Workers United, Sullivan wrote she had already received permission from her manager to carry the item, and that she believes she was fired because of her work with the union.
“I was clearly terminated in retaliation for my role in the union,” Sullivan wrote. “All I was doing was trying to get to and from work safely, and Starbucks used that as an excuse to fire me.”
In response to this incident, a picketing event was held in support of Sullivan and the other wrongfully fired workers on Sept. 10, at the Vestal Starbucks store.
Lora Kaganovsky, treasurer for the YDSA and a senior majoring in graphic design, condemned the actions of Starbucks’ upper management.
“A barista or cashier is no less of a laborer than someone working in a factory or a warehouse,” Kaganovsky wrote in an email. “Corporations know that unions will limit the ways they can abuse their employees and that’s why they work so hard to stop them. I want every student to know that they have the power to organize their workplace and YDSA exists on campus as a resource for them to reach out to about first steps.”