Melbourne Starbucks workers unionize
Image via AP.

Starbucks AP
They join more than 300 other stores in organizing under one banner.

Workers at a Starbucks in Melbourne are moving to join a national union of company employees to better negotiate for improved working conditions.

Baristas at the Wickham Road and Baymeadows Boulevard store in Melbourne have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to unionize with Starbucks Workers United.

They join employees from more than 300 other Starbucks stores across 42 states and the District of Columbia to join the organization, which claims some 41,000 supporters.

A spokesperson for Starbucks said Workers United represents only about 7,500 employees in the U.S.

The move came one day after a dozen employees at Store 11484 penned an open letter to Starbucks’ new CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, informing him of their intention to unionize and complaining of “hostile management, hour cuts, job insecurity, labor theft and unsustainable wages.”

Starbucks said employees earn an average wage of $17.50 per hour and offers among the best benefits in the industry, including comprehensive health coverage, 401K matching, stock grants, paid parental leave and reimbursements for college tuition, medical travel and DACA fees.

The company also maintained it provides scheduling flexibility and ample advance notice of employee shifts.

“On allegations of cutting hours and scheduling practices,” the spokesperson said, “Starbucks ahs a long-standing practice of adjusting store hours to reflect seasonal changes in customer demand. Partner work schedules are published on a regular, rolling basis three weeks in advance and are built based on recorded partner availability and the unique operation needs of each store.”

However, Starbucks has fallen under increased scrutiny over the last few years for its possible anti-union tactics as workers for the café chain have moved to organize amid store closures, alleged retaliatory actions against unionizers and rulings by federal judges that the company illegally fired workers in New York and Tennessee.

The NLRB has issued more than 80 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor laws, including surveilling workers, denying benefits to union employees and holding “captive audience” meetings in which managers allegedly pressured and intimidated workers.

Starbucks told Florida Politics that U.S. law permits anyone to file a charge against an employer or union and that such an action leads to a “multi-step” process of review by the NLRB, which to date has never issued the company a decision resolving the merits of allegations Workers United has made.

“In instances where others have filed claims against Starbucks for alleged violations of labor law, we have continued to defend ourselves where we believe the claims are unfounded,” the spokesperson said. “in many of these proceedings, the NLRB is attempting to use cases against Starbucks to change existing labor  law, not because Starbucks is failing to comply with the law as it exists today.”

Following his resignation last month, three-time CEO Howard Schultz testified before a Senate committee about the company’s labor practices on the same day Starbucks reported its shareholders had decided against commissioning an independent assessment of its worker relations.

Criticism fell largely along party lines, with Democrats lambasting Schultz and the company and Republicans coming to its defense.

Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was among Starbucks’ sharpest detractors, asserting the company had “done everything in their power to prevent” employees from unionizing under Schultz’s leadership.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah called it “somewhat rich that (Schultz was) being grilled by people who have never had the opportunity to create a single job.”

Adrian Ramirez, an employee at the Melbourne store and one of its union organizers, said in a statement it is “disheartening” to see such a successful company resist employee efforts to organize.

“The right to unionize and collectively bargain is a fundamental aspect of workers’ rights and allows for a fair and balanced relationship between the employer and employee,” he said. “By opposing unionization, Starbucks sends a message that they prioritize their own profits over the wellbeing and agency of their workforce, which ultimately undermines the principles of a just and equitable society.”

Starbucks is a publicly traded business with about 258,000 employees, according to Forbes, which lists it as the 17th best female-friendly company, the 30th most innovative company in the world, the 60th best employer for diversity in Canada and No. 71 on the Forbes Halo 100, which recognizes brands by industry for consumer services.

Starbucks said it believes in a direct relationship with employees, an arrangement that enables both parties to “share success.”

“We recognize that a subset of partners feel differently, and we respect their right to organize and to engage in lawful union activities without fear of reprisal or retaliation,” the spokesperson said. “We respect the right of all partners to make their own decisions about union representation, and we are committed to engaging in good faith collective bargaining for each store where a union has been appropriately certified following a representation election.”


Editor’s note: This story was updated with comments from Starbucks.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

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