Starbucks workers organize in Lansing, Southeast Michigan

Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. in Detroit also is unionizing 

By: - February 17, 2022 6:19 am

Starbucks shift supervisor Scott Screws at his store on Main and Liberty in Ann Arbor, Feb. 15, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

The nationwide labor uprising that began in “Striketober” of 2021 is continuing into the new year, with several Michigan Starbucks stores adding onto the growing list of the popular coffee chain locations that are gearing up to unionize.

Most recently, that includes a Starbucks store in Lansing and three in Ann Arbor.

Scott Screws, a shift supervisor at the downtown Ann Arbor store off of Main and Liberty, has been with the company for 16 years and is now one of the store’s organizing committee members. He told the Advance Tuesday that change has been a long time coming.

Starbucks at State and Liberty in Ann Arbor, Feb. 15, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Starbucks workers want to unionize for reasons including wages, messy COVID-19 protocols and a subpar training program.

“We’ve all put up with it for too long,” Screws said. “We’re all raised with this attitude that when we go to work … we maybe don’t get what we deserve. For whatever reason, we just accepted this.

“You know, it’s not for us anymore.”

As of Tuesday evening, there are 93 organizing Starbucks stores across 25 states, according to SB Workers United.

On Jan. 28, four Starbucks stores in Michigan filed for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Two of the stores are located in Ann Arbor, with one in Grand Blanc and the fourth in Clinton Township.

On Feb. 4, four more Michigan stores — one in Lansing, three in Ann Arbor — followed suit, and sent letters to Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson asking him to respond to their demand for union recognition by Feb. 7.

That deadline has come and gone.

Starbucks has continued to refuse to recognize unionization since the movement began in November with stores in New York. Screws said it “ignored” his store’s demand for recognition, meaning that the organizing members will now go into the voting process and wait for the petition to vote to be approved.

On a Starbucks website addressing the upswell of organizing at its stores, the company writes: “We do not believe unions are necessary at Starbucks because we know that the real issues are solved through our direct partnership with one another.

“… We don’t believe having a union will meaningfully change or solve the problems you’ve identified in your stores. We know we aren’t perfect, but we believe our challenges are best addressed by working together.”

Similarly, a Starbucks spokesperson said in an email that the company and its employees are “better together as partners, without a union between us.”

We're seeing this around the country, around the world right now. This change needed to happen a long time ago. And finally we're getting around to it.

– Scott Screws, a shift supervisor at the downtown Ann Arbor Starbucks

Screws said the company is only hurting itself with this mindset.

“I cannot stand all of this garbage, the underhandedness, the conversations that we have to have out of earshot with people. It’s ridiculous. It’s ruining our stores,” he said.

Screws said that since his store filed on Feb. 4, even more people have said they plan to vote. Workers had been talking about organizing on and off for years, he said, but saw their opportunity in November after seeing efforts in New York.

“It’s here now. We have this chance to make this impact to demand recognition, instead of requesting a vote, which we did and they completely ignored this. We received no response whatsoever,” Screws said.

“They just need to pay attention to what’s going on.”

Once the NLRB petition is approved, there will be a hearing which the company may or may not attend.

“So then we have a vote,” Screws said. “We have more than a majority in our store already.”

In a phone call with the Advance, a Starbucks spokesperson confirmed that the company will respect the NLRB’s process and plans to meet partners at the table when the time comes. The spokesperson emphasized that despite the company believing that a union is unnecessary, it plans to respect workers’ right to organize.

“We’re seeing this around the country, around the world right now. This change needed to happen a long time ago. And finally we’re getting around to it,” Screws said.

“It can’t continue like this.”

The Starbucks on Lake Lansing Road in Lansing Township is organizing | Susan J. Demas

In a similar vein, baristas and cooks at Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. in Detroit announced Wednesday that they are joining many of their industry colleagues by also demanding union recognition.

The group, “Comrades in Coffee,” is going on strike for fair wages, safer working conditions and more. The workers held a strike rally Wednesday in Detroit.

AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber expressed his support for Comrades in Coffee and the growing movement toward workplace unionization in general.

“Workers in Michigan and across the country have been inspired by the countless actions workers have taken to fight for their rights on the job,” Bieber said Wednesday. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that workers are prioritizing their own health and safety, and many are realizing a union contract is the best way to guarantee that.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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