Starbucks workers in New York vote to unionise in a first for company

Employees watching vote count over Zoom on big screen at union office in Buffalo erupted into cheers and chants

Starbucks employee Brian Murray, centre, and other employees and supporters react as votes are read during a viewing party for their union election in Buffalo, New York. AP
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Starbucks employees on Thursday voted to join a union at one store in Buffalo, New York, but rejected the union at a second location in the city, marking a major milestone for labour rights in the company.

Employees at one Starbucks location in Buffalo voted to join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Vote counting for a third store in the upstate New York city was continuing on Thursday.

Both the union and the Seattle-based coffee chain could still challenge the outcome of the election.

If the results for the first store hold, however, the company would gain its first unionised location in the US in decades.

The victory at one Buffalo store could embolden other baristas to launch organising drives at some of the company's more than 8,000 other US cafes.

Already, three other Buffalo-area stores and one store in Mesa, Arizona, have petitioned the National Labour Relations Board for union elections.

Starbucks had several unionised cafes and a roastery in the US in the 1980s, but all were eventually decertified. It beat back organising campaigns in Philadelphia and New York City, but one location in Canada unionised in 2020.

About 15 Starbucks employees who support the union drive had gathered in a room in Buffalo to watch results.

Many jumped, screamed and hugged when they realised they had enough votes to win the store on Elmwood Avenue, a Reuters witness said.

The vote was 19-8 in favour of joining the union.

Baristas and shift supervisors from the second location on Camp Road rejected the union by 12 to 8.

The closely watched results come as companies consider new union organising campaigns amid a US labour shortage that has already led to higher wages at most large retailer and restaurant chains.

E-commerce company Amazon is facing a new unionisation election at one of its Alabama warehouses after results of the previous election — which the union lost — were overturned last month.

Updated: December 09, 2021, 9:13 PM