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Starbucks Resists Union Effort in New York Region: Report

Starbucks reportedly said it will raise wages and benefits and a union isn’t needed for employees at stores in Buffalo, N.Y.

Coffee giant Starbucks  (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report has sent a letter to employees working at all 20 of its Buffalo stores in New York to head off their efforts to form a labor union, according to media reports.

A report in The Wall Street Journal said 70 employees at three company-owned cafes in Buffalo, N.Y., are trying to form the first worker union at the Seattle coffee-bar chain in the U.S. 

Starbucks told TheStreet it has unions in both Canada & South America. 

"We’ve heard and seen firsthand the challenges you’ve faced in your stores. It’s not okay, and you deserve better,” Starbucks Regional Vice President for Northeast region Allyson Peck wrote to baristas of the affected stores, last week, according to The Journal.

Peck also wrote in a separate memo shared by the company that, "it is my top priority that every single partner is feeling seen, heard and respected during these conversations." 

To be sure, Starbucks refers to employees as partners.

In a statement, the company also said, "We are pro-partner, not anti-union."

In addition, top executives including North America president Rossann Williams and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz visited the market to hold listening sessions with workers.

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The move comes at a time when corporate America is hiring seasonal workers to gear up for the annual holiday shopping rush during a major labor crunch in the world's biggest economy.

In August, employees of these three stores wrote petitions to join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union to address issues related to better wages, more training and adding higher-ranking staff positions.

During the pandemic, employees The Journal spoke to, who returned to stores in a phased manner, said they were expected to complete fast-paced mobile and drive-through orders in about 40 seconds.

Starbucks said it will add recruiters in Buffalo to help improve staffing and address other demands at the store.

On Sept. 14, the company told the National Labor Relations Board that all 450 workers employed in 20 stores in Buffalo should be allowed to vote.

“The facts and the law do not support holding individual and separate elections,” Starbucks attorney Alan Model said in his opening statement Thursday during a hearing held by the NLRD, which oversees unionization in the U.S.

Model argued that, because of similarities among the stores, any labor vote should include employees at all 20 of the company’s Buffalo-area locations — meaning the union would need backing from a majority of participating workers across the region in order to win.

A bigger group could derail the unionization but Starbucks said workers often pick up shifts at different locations within regions, so any one store’s action would affect others. 

In 2004, workers at a New York City Starbucks cafe sought to organize under the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Starbucks challenged that effort with the NLRB, and no union was formed.