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Starbucks workers push to unionize amid growing labor movement

The Starbucks location in Latham Plaza
Lucas Willard
The Starbucks location in Latham Plaza

Workers at two Starbucks stores in the Albany region are seeking to unionize. The push comes amid other local unionization efforts.

On March 30th, following the successful unionization of Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area, employees at the coffee chain’s Latham Plaza location filed for unionization through Workers United.

Weeks later, employees at the Starbucks location at Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany followed suit. Jake Evans works at the Albany shop.

“I think people are just sick and tired of, basically, feeling used and want to feel valued in the work they do, and also work in an environment where they feel safe and supported. And I think that’s where a lot of it stems from,” said Evans.

The National Labor Relations Board has set a union election for the Stuyvesant Plaza store for next month. Workers at the Latham Plaza store will vote on Tuesday.

Evans says he’s happy with his pay and benefits, but says a main reason he wants to unionize is related to staffing. He says Starbucks is not giving stores enough hours to staff correctly.

"Starbucks is still expecting us to give the same quality of service at higher volumes with less people working. And that just creates unsafe working conditions. It creates overworked employees – partners, that we call them -- and also just creates angry customers,” said Evans.

In response to a WAMC request for comment, a Starbucks spokesperson addressed the complaint regarding employee hours, saying:

“We always schedule to what we believe the store needs based on customer behaviors. That may mean a change in the hours available, but to say we are cutting hours wouldn’t be accurate.”

The company also issued a broader statement regarding the unionization effort, saying:

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country. From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process.”

The unionization effort at the two locations is gathering attention. Recently, U.S. Democratic Senator Kirsten Gellibrand met with workers as she seeks to advance the union-friendly PRO Act in Washington.

Recently, local labor representatives have been visiting the stores to share coffees in solidarity. Mark Emanatian is Director of the Capital District Area Labor Federation.

“You have billionaires flying to the stars and families living in their cars,” said Emanatian.

Emanatian is referencing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose Blue Origin aerospace company launched its fourth crewed flight at the end of March. At the same time, Amazon workers on Staten Island voted to unionize.

Emanatian says there’s a renewed interest in unionizing as corporations post record profits and workers are faced with stagnant wages and record inflation.

“So I think it’s the Starbucks workers, the Amazon workers, but even, like the nurses at Albany Med – that, to me, was one of the first successful organizing drives. We’re seeing it at not-for-profits. Northeast Parent & Child [Society] just went union, the workers there,” said Emanatian.

Employees at the Schenectady-based non-profit Northeast Parent & Child Society voted to unionize with CSEA earlier this month.

At Skidmore College, where WAMC hosts a news bureau, non-tenure-track faculty recently filed with the NLRB for a union election.

Ruth McAdams, an adjunct English professor, told WAMC in a recent interview that high local costs-of-living, a lack of job security, and a lack of standing in shaping policy are driving the union campaign from NTT faculty.

“We are barred from the venues in which decisions are made and so we are prevented from doing those committees that drive policy at Skidmore, and yet, at the same time, many of us are pressured – implicitly or explicitly – to do very onerous, burdensome and entirely unpaid administrative tasks by our departments and programs,” said McAdams.

Skidmore provided a statement to WAMC last week, saying if the union is certified, the private college will “work constructively and bargain in good faith, just as we do with the six other employee unions on campus, with which we have good working relationships.”

Last July, after workers represented by the New York State Nurses Association at Albany Med voted to approve the hospital’s first union contract, Democratic Capital Region State Assemblyman Phil Steck was among local officials celebrating.

“I have not seen in my time in public life, a more vibrant union than this one. And I want to thank you for setting an example for everyone in the Capital District for fighting back,” said Steck.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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