Starbucks Workers United Celebrates 1 Year Since A Major Milestone

Happy Birthday to the Union! Starbucks Workers United's latest milestone takes the song "for he's a jolly good fellow" to a whole new level. As of December 9, 2022, it's been exactly one year since the first Starbucks store unionized. On December 9, 2021, the Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York became the first store in Starbucks history to unionize, reports CNBC. Starbucks Workers United took to Twitter to celebrate the accomplishment. Per the tweet, in just one year, 270 Starbucks stores have unionized with nearly 7,000 total union workers. One of Starbucks' Reserve Roastery locations has even won its union election: The Roastery in Starbucks' hometown of Seattle, says The Hill.

Now, unionized stores span almost 40 states, per CNBC, but the impact of working-class union employees has touched baristas nationwide. Michelle Eisen, a barista who works at the Buffalo location that started it all, says union employees have pressured corporate into implementing credit card tipping, raises, and seniority pay. These tangible changes, Eisen tells CNBC, benefit both union and non-union employees alike. 

But, these victories didn't come without a long, largely uphill battle: It's been a long year for Starbucks workers.

A retrospective glance at the past year

As of October 2022, reports NPR, corporate Starbucks has been charged with over 325 separate accounts of unfair labor practices directly connected to employee union activity. Starbucks has shuttered stores for holding union elections, fired vocal pro-union employees, and offered benefits to employees who chose not to unionize. In October, says Bloomberg, Starbucks illegally asked law enforcement to intervene in an employee union picket line. U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, and Ed Markey even wrote a letter to interim CEO Howard Schultz, demanding he reveal how much money corporate Starbucks had collectively spent on legal fees battling the union, per Reuters.

Still, these numerous and glaring allegations of worker mistreatment didn't stop corporate Starbucks from enjoying a more lucrative year than ever. In September, the Pumpkin Spice Latte's seasonal release gained Starbucks the highest-grossing sales week in the company's 51-year history (via Restaurant Business.) In November, Starbucks' global revenue hit a record high of $32.3 billion in the 2022 fiscal year, with 9% year-over-year growth in returning customer base, via QSR. According to Forbes, as of December 2022, Schultz's net worth is $3.8 billion.

The future of Starbucks Workers United

The union effort still has a ways to go. Even though over 300 Starbucks stores have held union elections, and over 250 have won (a success rate of 80%, per CNBC), that still accounts for only 3% of the more than 9,000 total Starbucks stores in the U.S. Still, before December 9, 2021, there were zero unionized Starbucks stores anywhere; Starbucks Workers United has taken on one of the largest companies in the world and accomplished a lot in a single year. Workers' rights champion Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted his support of the milestone. "Your courage continues to inspire us," wrote Sanders. But his congratulations weren't complete without calling out Schultz to step up his game: "To Starbucks ownership: Treat your workers with respect and negotiate a fair first contract NOW."

So, what does the future look like for workers? Starbucks has denied any wrongdoing — until recently. In October, during a negotiations meeting with Starbucks Workers United, corporate Starbucks reps physically left union reps at the bargaining table. They left the room to "caucus" minutes after the meeting began and didn't come back until the meeting was over — two and a half hours later. In late November, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) unanimously ruled that the move was illegal, and Starbucks admitted (for the first time) its refusal to acknowledge the union, reports Bloomberg. This admission could mark a changing of the tides for union workers. 

Soon, there may be more milestones to celebrate.