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Three Starbucks in Ithaca vote to unionize

Three Starbucks coffee shops in Ithaca, N.Y voted to unionize on Friday, announced the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Stores at Meadow Street, College Avenue, and The Commons in Ithaca won their union vote, bringing the total number of unionized Starbucks across the country to 16. Of the 50 ballots cast in Ithaca, 47, or 94%, voted in favor of unionizing. The three remaining ballots were unresolved.

The results of Friday’s NLRB elections made Ithaca the first city to have all its Starbucks stores represented by a union (not including the Cornell University campus location, which is operated by the school).

The decision comes after partners at three other Starbucks in Western New York- Monroe Ave. and Mt. Hope stores in Rochester, and the Main St. store Buffalo- voted ‘Yes’ to union representation under Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Ithaca partners are expected to hold a press conference Friday afternoon at the Tompkins County Workers Center (TCWC) in Ithaca.

How the movement began

The Starbucks store unionization movement began in August 2021 when workers at the Elmwood Avenue Starbucks in Buffalo, NY filed a petition with the NLRB to unionize. The store won their vote in December of that year. As of Friday, March 8, Starbucks coffee shops in at least 25 states have filed petitions to unionize.

In March, city and county officials sent a letter Starbucks voicing support for local workers. The Starbucks partners aren’t the first coffee shops workers in Ithaca to unionize in recent years: In 2017, the TCWC helped workers at Gimme! Coffee successfully unionize.

Organizers at the Starbucks shops in Ithaca point to the first successful unionization effort in Buffalo as a major inspiration for their own efforts.

Hope Liepe, one of the organizers at Ithaca’s Meadow Street Starbucks store, said issues with understaffing, overworking, and unaffordable benefits plans are some of the reasons behind unionizing efforts. They said many Starbucks workers cannot afford a Starbucks health insurance plan with their current salary. They also said the corporation’s unclear policies during the COVID-19 pandemic was a major factor in the Ithaca partners’ decision unionize.

Related: Tompkins County, Ithaca officials urge Starbucks to recognize unionizing efforts

What’s the response from corporate?

Starbucks Coffee Company has pushed for regionwide voting as opposed to store-by-store, which the NLRB has ruled against. Some partners have raised concerns over recent actions from Starbucks as unionizing efforts ramped up.

Liepe talked about the company’s actions in their own small Upstate city: “There’s been unnecessary write-ups where people get disciplinary action that should not have happened. People are getting stuff into their permanent record at Starbucks. Especially at the beginning, it was not uncommon to have higher-up corporate people in our store. They sent people, what they call support managers, or regional directors,  into our stores to just spend time there, really trying to fix everything they can to give this idea that Starbucks has this perfect workplace, you don’t need a union.”

Related: Starbucks: 5 reasons the chain is struggling

What’s next?

“The partners across Ithaca are incredibly pleased with the results and excited to start bargaining with Starbucks for their first contracts,” said SBWU in a press release.

Liepe addressed the movement’s doubters in a conversation with the day prior to the ballot count.

“There are some in the community who have asked us, ‘why are you doing this? Are you anti Starbucks?’ We are not anti-Starbucks. All of us came to Starbucks and decided to work for Starbucks for a reason. A lot of us love Starbucks, and we’re for Starbucks, but we are also for the partners,” said Liepe. “We want to work together with corporate with the higher up executives to create a better experience for them for us and for the customers so that we can together create a new Starbucks and a better Starbucks going forward.”