Workers at the Starbucks on Route 31 in Liverpool are voting on whether to unionize Friday. Photo by Julie McMahon.

Workers at a Starbucks in Liverpool will vote Friday on whether to form the first union at a location in Central New York.

A majority of employees at the store will need to vote in favor of unionizing under the national Starbucks Workers United group to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB website notes there are 29 employees in the proposed bargaining unit, but a leading organizer at the store said some workers have left the company in the last month.

The “partners” — Starbucks’ designated name for its employees — at the 3820 NY-31 location announced their intentions to unionize in a letter to interim CEO Howard Schultz in late December. In the letter, they cite a desire to have a fair and direct say in matters that affect workers directly. 

Nine organizers who signed the letter said there is a disconnect between Starbucks’ mission statements and the day-to-day operations at their store. One of the company’s statements criticized by the group states workers are “performance-driven, through the lens of humanity.”

“With new management, our store has changed drastically within the past six months,” the nine employees wrote. “We have come to realize humanity is something that is not very present in our store.”

Brian Carey, a leading organizer at the store, told Central Current that a change in management experienced last year pushed organizing efforts over the top.

“We joked about unions and being protected by a union with our co-workers for a long time before then,” Carey said. “We saw other stores unionizing across the country and our state. We wanted to be a part of the movement because we didn’t want to be left behind.”

Carey has worked at the store for two and a half years. He said new management brought in unexpected changes.

“There have been sudden terminations where we weren’t entirely sure why people were being fired,” he said. “And I believe having a union at the store really places the public eye on the store. It puts more pressure on upper management to have ethical work practices.”

Workers also saw cuts to their routinely scheduled hours, Carey said. He said he was consistently scheduled for 30 to 35 hours per week. After management changes in August, his hours went down to around 12 to 15. 

Carey added he is unclear if this is a change brought on by the new manager, as he has noticed workers at other stores around the country report similar issues.

Central Current reported on employees at the now-closed Armory Square location in Syracuse attempting to unionize last summer. Cut hours was a core grievance outlined in their letter to Schultz.

“If I had more expenses, I would have probably had to pick up a third job. I already have two jobs,” said Carey, who is a college student. “I know that some people ended up leaving because we weren’t getting any hours.”

Carey said hours have been a bit steadier now after workers went public with their union campaign. 

In an email, a Starbucks spokesperson said the company has a historical practice of adjusting store hours to reflect seasonal changes in customer demand.

Representatives from Starbucks Workers United on Monday filed unfair labor practice claims against the company for incidents and behavior reported at the Liverpool store.

The allegations include coercive actions, including surveillance and coercive statements, including threats and promises of benefits.

Carey said he has seen the district manager at the Liverpool store more consistently in recent months. Workers are worried their benefits or raises might be cut if they participate in a union, Carey said.

The gulf between winning a union election or being voluntarily recognized by an employer as a union and actual collective bargaining can take longer than a year. In a recent article by Bloomberg Law, a legal analyst estimated that the time it takes to negotiate a first contract with a union is about 465 days, weeks longer than previous estimates.

In a written statement, a Starbucks spokesperson said the company does not tolerate unlawful anti-union behavior, including from its managers. The spokesperson said Starbucks would listen to employees and respect the union.

A report from the progressive think tank People’s Policy Project notes that Starbucks Workers United, which has been active since 2021, has filed around 550 unfair labor practices charges against Starbucks since the start of 2022. 

For Carey in Liverpool, a union is about bridging the divide between baristas and management. He added meetings among supervisors should be open to the entire staff.

“I believe everyone should have a say in what happens at our store,” he added.

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Follow Eddie Velazquez @ezvelazquez.


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