Graham Kilmer

West Allis Starbucks Workers Push For Union

Fifth Starbucks in state to join a nationwide movement by workers at company's cafes.

By - Jun 14th, 2022 04:59 pm
Starbucks. Pixabay License Free for commercial use No attribution required

Starbucks. (Pixabay License).

Another Milwaukee area Starbucks has joined the nationwide campaign to unionize Starbucks stores.

A majority of workers at the Starbucks in West Allis at 2938 S. 108th St. sent union authorization cards to the company early Tuesday morning, according to a statement from Starbucks Workers United, the union organizing workers across the country. The workers also petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a union election.

Often, unions will demand voluntary recognition of their unions after delivering a majority of cards authorizing a union to act as their bargaining representative to their employer. But Starbucks has refused voluntary recognition at the hundreds of locations across the country organizing unions.

The West Allis store, with more than 20 workers, is the fifth in the state to organize for a union. All are organizing with Starbucks Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The first in the area was a location in Oak Creek, which recently won its union election.

Jessica Thompson, one of the workers at the West Allis store, told Urban Milwaukee that they began organizing in March and that seeing the other locations in Wisconsin and around the nation successfully organize helped encourage them.

A major issue that workers organized around was the corporation’s practice of cutting workers hours during the winter. And this issue isn’t unique to the cafe in West Allis, she said. Looking around the country at other locations, she noticed that many others were saying the same thing.

She said this is, in part, is why the unionization activity began “bubbling up” around the country this past winter. And the company has already noticed, she said, notifying workers that it is working on a policy to establish minimum hours for workers.

But this olive branch isn’t enough to dissuade workers from organizing, Thompson said, noting that they have heard more “empty promises” than ones fulfilled.

In their letter to company CEO Howard Schultz, which Thompson wrote, the West Allis workers noted, “Starbucks is a company providing many firsts in terms of benefits for its employees, and we have been proud to work for a company reflecting this… Many benefits require a minimum amount of hours worked, and if employees are not guaranteed this minimum, how can we rely on the benefits contingent on this?”

Another issue at the location has been the company’s allocation of labor and resources. Thompson, who has worked at Starbucks for six years, said the company hasn’t remodeled the West Allis cafe in 10 years, while other stores have seen several remodels. This has left the cafe in a state that can make it difficult to keep up with the volume of service at times, she said.

What’s more, the pace of service at Starbucks can be punishing. “Most weekends, we struggle to meet customer demands due to short staffing, or even limits in the amount of orders we can handle due to the layout of our store,” the workers said in the letter.

Thompson said there are times the staff has asked that a channel, like the mobile app, be turned off so they can catch up. While store management has been amenable and understanding to the practice, corporate management has tried to clamp down on it, she said.

This has led workers to begin avoiding weekend shifts, when order volume hits its highest peaks. This in turn exacerbates the problem, as a missing co-worker can make it that much harder to keep up.

“Current working conditions coupled with the continuous growth in customer count and profits are not sustainable for the long term,” the letter states, “While our manager cares for each partner and wants what is best for us, the needs of our store go beyond the authoritative abilities of one store manager.”

The workers also said, “Our desire to unionize goes beyond our personal gain, beyond our store, and even beyond our company.” They wrote that “multi-billion dollar corporations” like Starbucks pay their chief executives massive salaries while the workers struggle to get by. While Starbucks pays above the minimum wage, it’s not enough, they wrote. “By unionizing, we seek to be part of this shift in salary business models.”

Schultz, who became a billionaire while founding and building Starbucks, recently returned to head up the company for just $1 a year, but his predecessor as CEO, Kevin Johnson, was paid $20.4 million in annual compensation.

Categories: Food & Drink, Weekly

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