Starbucks workers added to the pace of a union campaign that went public in late August and ignored decades of union-free labor in the company’s corporate-owned stores.
On Thursday and Friday, workers at six stores in New York voted to unionize, bringing the total number of company-owned stores where workers supported a union to 16, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The union, Workers United, was also leading a store in Kansas whose votes were counted on Friday, but the number of challenged ballots cast doubt on the outcome until their case was resolved.
The union has lost only one election so far, but it is officially challenging the outcome.
Since the union won its first two elections in December, workers in more than 175 other stores in at least 25 of the approximately 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the United States have applied for union elections. The Labor Board will count ballots in at least three more stores next week.
Organizational success at Starbucks reflects growing interest among workers, including Amazon’s efforts, where workers voted last week to unionize the Staten Island warehouse by a significant margin.
On Wednesday, Labor Council General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo announced that filing of union elections had increased by more than 50 percent in the previous six months compared to the same period a year earlier. Ms Abruzzo expressed concern that funding and staff shortages were making it difficult for the agency to continue its activities, saying in a statement that the board “needed a significant increase in funding to fully carry out the agency’s mission.”
Starbucks has tried to persuade workers not to unite through anti-union meetings with workers and conversations between managers and individual employees, but some employees say the meetings have only increased their support for organizing.
In some cases, Starbucks has even sent several senior executives to out-of-town stores, a move the company said was aimed at resolving operational issues such as stuffing and training, but some union supporters said they feared.
The union has complained to Starbucks that it seeks to reduce hours nationally as a way to encourage long-term workers to leave the company and replaces them with employees who are more skeptical about unions. And the union argues that Starbucks has retaliated against workers for supporting the union by disciplining or dismissing them. Last month, the Labor Board issued a formal complaint against Starbucks seeking retaliation against two Arizona employees, a move it took after finding eligibility to sue an employer or union.
The agency denied it had spent hours leaving workers, saying it was scheduling workers in response to customer demand, and denied allegations of anti-union activity.
As the union’s campaign accelerated in March, the company announced that Kevin Johnson, who had served as chief executive since 2017, would replace Howard Schultz, who had twice led the company before and was one of its largest investors.
Some investors who warned Mr. Johnson that the company’s anti-union tactics could tarnish its image are hopeful that a change of leadership could change Starbucks’ attitude towards the union. But the company soon announced that the union would not agree to remain neutral in the election, as the union had requested, dampening those hopes.
On Monday, the same day Mr. Schultz returned as chief executive, the company fired Laila Dalton, accusing one of the Arizona employees, NLRB Starbucks, of seeking revenge in March. The company said Mrs. Dalton violated company rules by recording conversations with colleagues without their permission.
“The interest of partners in a union does not exclude them from the values we always hold,” Reggie Borges, a company spokesman, said in a statement, using the company’s term for an employee.