Seattle Starbucks workers win nation's first bargaining victory, employer makes concessions to laid-off workers

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Starbucks Worker Solidarity @VentiSolidarity / Twitter
Starbucks Worker Solidarity @VentiSolidarity / Twitter

Workers at two Seattle stores set to be closed by the corporation have won concessions from their employer. According to Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union that represents them, "this marks the first successful agreement our union has negotiated with the company."

On July 11, Starbucks announced it would close five Seattle-area stores for "safety reasons." Two of those stores — the Olive Way and the 505 Union Station locations — were already unionized, and the others had ongoing union organizing.

SBWU charged that the closures were merely a union-busting tactic that the corporation had used in other parts of the country as well. The union filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency charged with enforcing US labor laws.

Meanwhile, workers at the two unionized stores had the right under federal law to negotiate with Starbucks over the effects of the closures.

According to the union, negotiations took some 15 straight hours but resulted in major concessions from the company.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Worker Solidarity @VentiSolidarity / Twitter  

The agreement ensures that all workers

  • will be able to transfer to nearby stores,
  • with no gap in their schedules or any lost hours, and
  • will have the right of first refusal to return if their stores were reopened or a new store opens nearby.

    In other good news for Starbucks workers, the NLRB dismissed a complaint by the company that union sympathizers in Arizona had used "disturbing" and "aggressive" tactics, including "blocking entrances and exits" and "surrounding a store and pounding on the windows to physically intimidate and bully partners inside."

    "Partners" is the current Starbucks euphemism for their employees.

    The NLRB concluded that "there was insufficient evidence presented to demonstrate that the participants... prevented employees or members of the public from entering or exiting," and "the investigation revealed that no demonstrators touched any employees or customers, or their vehicles."

    To date, exactly 200 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize. The 200th came on July 22, when workers at the University Circle store in Cleveland, Ohio, voted 11-9 to be represented by SBWU. The store was the fourth in Cleveland to vote for a union.

    According to the union, more than 300 Starbucks stores have filed petitions to unionize nationwide, and at stores where elections have already been held, more than 80% have successfully become unionized.