Starbucks Chicago Roastery, The Largest US Store, May Soon Join The Union

The union drive at Starbucks has entered its second year, and it's shaping up to be a big one, as Starbucks' largest store, the Chicago Roastery, has just filed to hold an election and potentially join the union. Since the first Starbucks stores in Buffalo unionized at the end of 2021, over 300 locations across the United States have joined them. While that's a staggering number for such a short period of time, it still only represents a fraction of Starbucks' employees, as there are more than 15,000 stores nationwide. So while the union campaign has attracted a lot of attention, and it has had a strong success rate in elections, a win at one of the most popular and prominent locations in the country could represent a major milestone.

The Starbucks Chicago Roastery is a massive four-floor (plus a rooftop terrace), 35,000-square-foot store in Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping district along Michigan Avenue, an area that attracts over 20 million visitors each year. In a press release, Starbucks Workers United, the group representing the employees fighting to unionize, says they are representing over 200 workers, and are hoping to follow in the footsteps of the other flagship stores in New York and Seattle that have already unionized. An operations lead at the store says, "We are tired of seeing our coworkers burnt out, bullied, and mistreated everyday," adding that they love their job and that "we all deserve to experience the Roastery the way it should be."

Starbucks says employees are well compensated, while the union claims problems have been ignored

The Starbucks Workers United's statement says they have tried working with management in expressing their concerns over staff mistreatment, but have "been ignored and degraded." Starbucks responded with a statement saying its relationship to its "partners," is central to its culture, that history shows the company has improved benefits, and that it has "made more than $1.4 billion in investments over the past year to improve the experience in our stores and for our partners," including allowing tips. Starbucks also touted its benefits available to "eligible partners," and added to Tasting Table: "We remain committed to supporting our Chicago Roastery partners."

Starbucks also claims that it "recognizes that a subset of partners feel differently," and has the right to organize and vote in the union election. While the back and forth between the company and union is to be expected in such a fraught environment, recent rulings have not been going Starbucks' way. The coffee chain was recently ordered to reopen a store by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge who said it was illegally closed in retaliation for union activity, and the company has been repeatedly forced to rehire employees it fired in alleged retaliations. If history is any indication, this is going to be a tough battle, and even with Starbucks Workers United's recent success, there is no guarantee which way this will go.