Starbucks baristas outside New Orleans are the first in the state to apply for a union vote | Economic news

This week, workers at a New Orleans Starbucks became the first in Louisiana to formally call for a union, joining an organizing movement which started at a New York Starbucks last year and has spread to multiple states.

On Tuesday, representatives of baristas at the global coffee chain’s Maple Street site filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees labor rights, seeking to hold a vote.

At least 30% of the 16 baristas employed at Starbucks must have supported the petition for it to be accepted. After the NLRB investigates to ensure the validity of the petition, Starbucks will be required by law to post a notice that a vote to unionize will take place at a later date.

Looking for better pay, benefits

Starbucks employees Caitlyn and Billie, who did not want to give their last names for fear of reprisal, said Thursday they had jointly organized the Maple Street petition to lobby for better pay and conditions.

Caitlyn, 22, a student at Tulane University, said the $12 hourly starting wage at Starbucks outlets in New Orleans “doesn’t look too bad” compared to Louisiana’s minimum wage. and the federal government of $7.25.

But she said there was little chance of increasing that salary by working for the coffee chain. One of the baristas in their petition was making $17 an hour after working for the company for 11 years. She also said tips were low compared to other service jobs, with the breakdown amounting to about $30 a week for cafe baristas.

Employees are also looking for better benefits, including paid time off. Billie said they are currently starting to accrue paid vacation days after working a year; anyone who quits their job and comes back has to start from scratch.

Supported by the Service Employees Union

The petition was filed on behalf of the baristas by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union who was behind much of Starbucks’ organizing effort. The union has about two million members and is the second largest in the United States behind the National Education Association which represents teachers.

Manuel Quinto-Pozos, an Austin, Texas-based labor attorney, was also a petitioner on behalf of New Orleans baristas.

Starbucks on Maple Street in New Orleans on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Baristas at the store are seeking to unionize to lobby for better pay and conditions, including a tougher policy for dealing with abusive customers. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has led the company through its periods of explosive growth over the past three decades and joined earlier this month, called on employees not to unionize and denied reports that the company used heavy-handed tactics to deter the organization.

In response to a request for comment on the Maple Street union campaign, a Starbucks spokesperson pointed to an April 10, 2022 letter from Schultz where he addressed recent organizing efforts.

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“From the start, we have been clear in our belief that we are better off together as partners, without union between us, and that belief has not changed,” Schultz wrote.

“Any allegation of anti-union activity is categorically false,” he added. “We are fully committed to following the NLRB process.”

Better offer for non-unionized workers

In a meeting last week with workers, Schultz said Starbucks plans to expand its benefits package, but any improvements won’t be available to unionized employees, according to to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Last October, Starbucks promised to raise base pay for various categories of employees starting in the summer of 2022, although it was unclear at the time whether this would include unionized employees.

To date, employees at about 200 of some 9,000 Starbucks-owned U.S. outlets have asked to unionize, with two dozen voting in favor and two against so far, according to the NLRB. There are approximately 6,500 licensed Starbucks stores in the United States.

Dealing with customers

There are about 100 Starbucks coffee shops in Louisiana, about half of which are in the New Orleans area, according to the Starbucks website.

The NLRB said earlier this month that organizing efforts had increased sharply. The agency said that petitions for union representation are up 57% within six months to the end of March, compared to the same period a year earlier.

“Right now there is an increase in union activity across the country, with workers organizing and filing petitions for more union elections than in the past ten years,” said the general counsel of the NLRB, Jennifer Abruzzo, in the release announcing the raise earlier this month. the agency is seeking a 16% budget increase to accommodate the additional volume.

Caitlyn of Starbucks Maple Street said employees are also asking for stronger support from the company to deal with customer abuse.

“We want companies to support us whenever things get tough at Starbucks,” she said. “We want a better way to handle this than giving out free drinks and saying ‘we’re so sorry’ to everyone,” she said of the training Starbucks gives on how to handle the abusive customers.

Cecelia, the manager of the Maple Street store, said Thursday that as management she was not allowed to join the organizing effort. But she is in favor of any plan that would make things better for Starbucks workers, she said.

“I would support anything that would mean ‘partners’ would have a better work experience,” she said, using a Starbucks term for the employee.

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