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Starbucks says it will negotiate with workers forming a union in Buffalo, New York


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Members react during Starbucks union vote in Buffalo, New York, U.S., December 9, 2021.
Lindsay DeDario | Reuters

Starbucks plans to negotiate in good faith with workers at its Elmwood store in Buffalo, New York, the company said Monday, days after the employees’ votes to form the coffee chain’s first U.S. union were certified.

In a letter to all U.S. partners, Rossann Williams, Starbucks EVP North America, said that while the company’s conviction that it does not want a union “between us as partners” has not changed, it will respect the legal process.

“This means we will bargain in good faith with the union that represents partners in the one Buffalo store that voted in favor of union representation. Our hope is that union representatives also come to the table with mutual good faith, respect and positive intent,” Williams wrote.

Earlier this month, workers at the Elmwood location voted in favor of unionizing, a first for the company since it went public decades ago. A second store vote at a nearby cafe went in Starbucks’ favor, while the results of a third were not determined that day because both sides questioned the tally. Last week, the union formally challenged the results at the two stores.

The push to unionize is also spreading across the country. Baristas at two Boston cafes filed for union elections late last week. More stores in Buffalo and in Mesa, Arizona, are also seeking to organize with Starbucks Workers United, a branch of the Service Employees International Union. The more stores that are successful, the greater the workers’ ability to collectively bargain with the coffee giant will be. The two sides do not have to agree to a contract.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson recently told CNBC’s Jim Cramer that he expects a handful of additional stores to unionize.

The union push broadly has faced strong opposition from Starbucks management. In Buffalo and Mesa, the company has sent executives to locations, which the organizers have called “union busting.” Starbucks has denied any allegations it has tried to intimidate workers. The company has said since the beginning of the process it believes the full Buffalo market of 20 stores should have been allowed to vote.

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