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With Lansing votes, nine Michigan Starbucks stores move to unionize

Sophia Kalakailo
Michigan Radio
Organizers from the Starbucks Workers United Huron Valley Coalition celebrate when they learn their store voted to unionize.

Two Greater Lansing Starbucks stores voted to unionize Thursday. It’s part of a growing wave of workers organizing at the coffee chain.

More than a dozen workers and supporters gathered Thursday at the Lake Lansing store for a Zoom watch party of the union vote count.

Grace Norris works at that store. She says she’s been talking to workers about unionization efforts since last December.

“I think for me personally it was about the fact that I have a lot of respect for the work that we do and I believe that we deserve to have a say in our work environment and we deserve to feel supported by our job,” Norris said.

Norris says she makes $13 dollars an hour and is hoping to bargain for higher wages.

In a unanimous vote, workers at a store in East Lansing also voted to unionize. So far, nine Michigan Starbucks stores have voted in favor of a union.

Original Post:

Five Michigan Starbucks stores in voted on whether to unionize Tuesday. All but one voted yes.

Organizers from the Starbucks Workers United Huron Valley Coalition gathered outside the Starbucks on State Street in Ann Arbor to watch votes be tallied on Tuesday.

Organizers from The Starbucks Workers United Huron Valley Coalition gather outside the Starbucks on State and Liberty in Ann Arbor. Two people hold signs that read "Union Coffee Now" and "Barista Powered Union."
Sophia Kalakailo
Organizers from The Starbucks Workers United Huron Valley Coalition gather outside an Ann Arbor Starbucks awaiting the results of elections to authorize unions at five stores.

The five stores voted individually. The Starbucks located on South University on University of Michigan's campus was the only one that did not authorize a union.

Lindsey Calka is a union organizer and employee at a now-unionized Starbucks. She said the next step is bargaining and organizing at the national level.

"I'm ecstatic. Period. Probably some people are bummed that we did lose that final store," she said. "And it is a bummer, but I don't think it affects our power as a coalition at all… [The South University Starbucks] will be affected by the wins that we make in our individual stores, I think, no matter what. And if they don't, we'll… take action so that they are protected.”

Sophia Kalakailo
Hannah Whitbeck calls off the results of each Starbucks location's union election. The count took place on Zoom and workers gathered for a watch party outside an Ann Arbor Starbucks.

Calka attributes the coalition’s loss at the particular store to student workers leaving for the summer resulting in fewer being eligible to vote.

The Ann Arbor area stores filed to unionize in February, but Starbucks challenged the petitions with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), arguing the workers needed to vote as a district, not as individual stores. The labor board ultimately rejected the challenge allowing workers to vote by individual store.

Calka said workers' main concerns include COVID-19 precautions, wages, and production pressure.

“That's been kind of the three main camps of issues that people are bringing to us but we haven't sat down and formalized actual demands yet,” she said.

They wrote out some of their demands in a letter to former Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson earlier this year.

Sophia Kalakailo
Starbucks union organizers celebrate as votes are tabulated store by store. Five stores in the Ann Arbor area voted and all but one authorized a union.

Votes from five more Michigan Starbucks locations will be counted later this week.

“All [of] Michigan, all across the country, all these stores are working together for the same goal,” said East Lansing Starbucks employee Emily Grasel. "So we stand together in solidarity.”

In statements to news outlets, Starbucks has said it's committed to working with its store employees as partners, but believes the company is better off without unions.

“We're hoping our union isn't just going to be a vehicle for our pay and benefits, but it's going to be a tool to fight for worker power throughout the county and hopefully throughout Michigan and then the country and then the world, “ said union organizer Ruby Barron. “But it's only one step at a time, but it's got to start somewhere.”

Sophia Kalakailo joined Michigan Radio in Sept. 2021 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying journalism and minoring in documentary production. She previously interned at Bridge Michigan and was an editor for The State News and The Eastern Echo covering a wide range of topics.
As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community. Michelle is also the voice of WKAR's weekend news programs.
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