WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — A Starbucks in Westerville has unionized after employees were said to have experienced panic attacks trying to keep up with customer demand.

Shift Supervisor Gabe Santohir, 29, led the movement for the Westerville store to become part of Starbucks Workers United. The vote on June 29 succeeded with 80% in favor of unionizing out of everyone who chose to vote.

Panic attacks

“We were tired of the conditions of the workplace,” Santohir said. “I couldn’t stand watching the baristas I work with have panic attacks during the middle of their shift. You’re making coffee for the general public. It shouldn’t be the sort of environment that people work in. It shouldn’t be the standard in the food service industry for people to be so emotionally burned out every single day.”

Increased customer flow during the pandemic, without a change in staffing numbers, led to up to 40-minute waits for customers, Santohir explained. Sometimes, they could cut it down to 20 minutes.

“That’s still an incredibly long time for a customer to wait, and they’re upset while we’re just trying to do everything we can to help them,” Santohir said.

The average drink takes between one to two minutes to make, without personalization, Santohir pointed out, and baristas serve the drive-through and the walk-in customers, and keep the café clean.

New Rights

Santohir believes it was worth the risk of unionizing.

“We could quit and find new jobs, but leave the people that we care about — that we worked with every day — in that exact same environment,” Santohir said. “So when it came to thinking about that, I figured the only direction is up in terms of what we could gain.”

Starbucks employees have faced reduced hours across the board, Santohir told NBC4. As a result, employees find it difficult to get enough hours for health insurance, or cannot afford health insurance due to reduced hours.

Once they’d unionized, the store on South State Street gained Weingarten Rights, which allows collective bargaining. Employees also have the right to a union representative during an interview that the employee thinks could lead to discipline.

“We did just unionize, so we have to wait for Starbucks to come to the bargaining table,” Santohir said.

Community support

Customers and fellow baristas have shown support for the move.

“The second that our store went public, baristas at the 88 Broad Street store — that was the first store in Columbus to unionize — they reached out to us,” Santohir said. “And then various members from the teachers’ union, and just community supporters that popped into the cafe.”

Santohir thinks that Starbucks Workers United will catch on, and looks forward to seeing more stores go public later in the year with unionizing announcements.

Starbucks responds

When NBC4 reached out to Starbucks for comment about the Westerville store’s unionizing, a spokesperson responded with this email:

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country. 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.

We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the National Labor Relations Board process.”