COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Workers at a Starbucks across from Ohio State University’s campus won their union election, making that store the third in Columbus and ninth in Ohio to successfully vote to unionize.
After petitioning the National Labor Relations Board in November, workers at the coffee shop voted 13-5 in mid-December to join the midwest board of Workers United. In a letter sent to Starbucks president and interim CEO Howard Schultz — undersigned by 21 of the store’s employees in November — workers accused the coffee giant of unfair scheduling, inconsistent disciplinary practices and of “reducing partners to cogs in a machine.”
“As a campus store, our needs are specific: Partners travel to their homes during academic breaks and deserve to be secure in their employment when they return,” the letter read. “We work to pay rent and tuition, to keep food on the table, and to have healthcare. No one should be robbed of these basic rights in the name of corporate greed and favoritism.”
Hannah Wright, a shift supervisor, union organizer and recent Ohio State graduate, previously told NBC4 that working conditions at the campus-area store began going “steadily downhill” around the start of the fall semester. Among employees’ complaints were concerns about the implementation of the “12-hour minimum:” Each quarter, hourly employees must average 12 hours of work per week – or face consequences.
Wright said many employees, nearly all of whom are Ohio State students, were routinely scheduled for fewer than 12 hours. With the responsibility on baristas to pick up shifts at other stores in the district, employees – several of whom didn’t have reliable access to transportation, as they didn’t bring vehicles to college – often scrambled to meet their weekly minimum hours.
Other employees’ complaints, Wright said, included being scheduled during class and having job security concerns when going home during academic breaks.
In an emailed statement, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the company was “listening and learning from the partners” in its stores.
“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” the statement read. “We remain committed to our partners and and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone.”
“It gives us a unified voice,” Wright said of forming a union. “It’s easier for all of us to speak together, rather than all of us speaking one-on-one with our individual issues.”
The store at 1784 N. High St. joins the ranks of nearly 300 other Starbucks nationwide that have successfully voted to unionize. Its predecessors haven’t all faced an easy path to unionization, however.
The NLRB has filed more than a dozen legal complaints against Starbucks for union-busting practices at stores across the country, including in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Overland Park, Kansas; Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia. And although courts have generally sided with workers, Wright said workers had many conversations before they signed union cards about the possibility of retaliation.