Buffalo, New York, Starbucks Employees Agree to Unionize

Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a viewing of their union election on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. Starbucks workers have voted to unionize over the company’s objections, pointing the way to a new labor model for the 50-year old coffee giant. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

The National Labor Relations Board said Thursday that workers voted 19-8 in favor of a union at one of three locations in Buffalo. The board is still counting votes for two other stores.

The company strongly objects.

If the labor board certifies the vote — a process expected to take about a week — it would be the first for any Starbucks-owned store in the U.S. to unionize. Starbucks has actively fought unionization at its stores for decades, saying its stores function best when it works directly with employees.

Workers at all three stores began voting by mail last month on whether they wanted to be represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

“Yes” votes could also accelerate unionization efforts at other U.S. Starbucks stores. Already, three more stores in Buffalo and a store in Mesa, Arizona, have filed petitions with the labor board for their own union elections. Those cases are pending.

Starbucks insists its 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores function best when it works directly with its employees, which it calls “partners.” Many employees in the Buffalo area work at more than one store depending on demand, Starbucks says, and it wants to have the flexibility to move them between stores.

Backers of the union say Starbucks can do more than what it is currently doing.

– Ella Breedlove