Employees at two local Starbucks vote to unionize

Local organizers in Tallahassee stand in solidarity with the Starbucks location on Monroe. Photo courtesy: Tallahassee Community Action Committee

The first Starbucks store to unionize was last December in Buffalo, N.Y. It created a wave of action within Starbucks across the United States, and Florida’s first store — in Tallahassee — filed for a union election mid-January. Located on North Monroe Street just south of John Knox Road, the store made history as the first chain in the Sunshine State to unionize. Nearly a month later on Wednesday, the Starbucks at 222 South Magnolia Drive announced that it was inspired by the baristas at the Monroe location to organize a union.

“Inspired by and moving in solidarity with the John Knox Tallahassee store, as well as with a rapidly growing number of other stores across the country, we are organizing a union,” the partners wrote in a statement to Kevin Johnson. “We know this is the only way we can truly live up to Starbucks’ values and build a real partnership.”

Johnson, who is the president and CEO of Starbucks, issued a public statement addressing the recent unionization vote that happened in Buffalo in December.

“Many of you have told me you greatly value the flexibility to work between stores, to swap and pickup shifts, giving you the opportunity to connect with partners across different stores as one community,” Johnson wrote in his holiday message. “Because of this, we feel strongly that all partners in Buffalo should have a voice in the elections, which may unfortunately not be the case. While we recognize this creates some level of uncertainty, we respect the process that is underway and, independent of any outcome in these elections, we will continue to stay true to our mission and values.”

Along with this public statement by Johnson, Starbucks stores are holding meetings at each location, requiring their shift managers to promote anti-union propaganda to their staff. Detailed in a tweet by Calum Johnson, who is also a barista at the Tallahassee Monroe location, “We just had our first anti-union meeting at Starbucks. They separated us into groups to try to divide us. I was very angry during my meeting, they made so many of us uncomfortable.”

Leo Hernandez, a shift manager at the Starbucks on Monroe, shared their desire for the coffee chain to reinstate COVID-19 protection for its baristas, revise their barista training hours and incorporate more DEI training.

“Our working conditions across the company have been pretty bad, especially through COVID-19,” they said. “It almost seemed like Starbucks was going to come out ahead of COVID-19 as one of the better companies, and as COVID-19 started to ‘die down,’ they took away COVID-19 pay and retracted their benefit for a free food and drink item. So a lot of benefits that they had offered that were good for partners during the pandemic — which is still going on — are no longer available. They actually just reinstated paid COVID-19 leave for all partners as part of another store’s unionizing efforts, so it’s just across the board thing and solidarity. We’ve seen how they treated the Buffalo partners. We’ve seen how they treated the partners in Arizona, and we want to show Starbucks that, ‘Hey, that’s not OK.’ We’re in different states, and we may not have even talked to these people before, but we are the same.”

As an employee at Starbucks since 2015, Hernandez reflected on their history with the company and mentioned that their parents worked for the corporation in the ’90s.  “I’ve seen what Starbucks can be, I grew up in what Starbucks can be, and to see what it turned into is just sad,” they said.

Twenty-four of the store’s partners agreed to unionizing, resulting in Hernandez and their partners at the Monroe location being supported by Starbucks Workers United and Florida representative Anna Eskamani, along with local organizations like Students for a Democratic Society and Tallahassee Community Action Committee.

While the two Starbucks locations in Tallahassee are unionizing, a group of the Starbucks partners on Florida State University’s campus have recently created a movement against Aramark, due to the company’s use of prison labor. The multi-million dollar corporation uses the licensing and branding of major food companies on the university’s campus like Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and Steak ’n Shake. Although the two are separate movements, the similar goal of protecting the employees and demanding better benefits seems to be the shared interest.

Prior to making their final decision to unionize, Hernandez recalled that their store was inspired by the Buffalo Starbucks partners and chose to stand in solidarity.

“If we are going to do this, now is the time, because it’s turning into a movement, not a moment, and we need to join in and make sure they understand that they can’t do this to other partners.”