8 Michigan Starbucks await unionization ruling, while 3 more file to start process

Company continues to resist unionization efforts

By: - March 10, 2022 4:04 pm

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

The unionization movement in Starbucks stores across the country has now reached 11 stores in Michigan, with three more signing onto the fight this week and eight awaiting a final decision from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after days of hearings.

The effort that began in Buffalo, N.Y., in November had first prompted four stores in Michigan — two in Ann Arbor, one in Grand Blanc and one in Clinton Township — to file for union elections on Jan. 28. On Feb. 4, four more stores— three in Ann Arbor, one in Lansing — also followed suit.

The organizing workers list issues like wages, messy COVID-19 protocols and a subpar training program as reasons to seek a union vote.

On Monday, three additional stores — in Flint, East Lansing and Grand Rapids — filed for union elections. According to Starbucks Workers United (an SEIU affiliate), the vast majority of the stores’ workers also signed union authorization cards.

The pro-union momentum was bolstered Wednesday when three more Buffalo stores won their union elections. Starbucks Workers United has now won six of the seven union elections since December.

There are now at least 129 organizing Starbucks locations across 26 states.

“With these new petitions, our position has not changed,” a Starbucks spokesperson told the Advance Thursday. “Starbucks’ success, past, present and future is built on how we partner together, always with our mission and values at our core.”

The initial eight stores were consolidated for an NLRB hearing in early February. That hearing began March 2 and concluded Friday, with both Starbucks and the pro-union workers bringing witnesses, testifying virtually before the court and cross-examining the other side’s witnesses.

Matthew Kain, a labor organizer with Workers United who is working with Michigan Starbucks stores, said both legal teams still have paperwork to finish and file by Tuesday.

After that, a decision is likely to come within two to three weeks.

“There is legal precedent for us to win these cases and we expect our eight stores will win and be able to vote on a store by store basis,” Kain said Thursday.

The petitioning stores are seeking the right to individually petition for a union election. Starbucks, on the other hand, seeks a judgment from the NLRB that votes should be held on a district basis.

“Our position since the beginning has been that partners in a market or district deserve the right to vote on a decision that will affect them,” a Starbucks spokesperson said. “So more than anything, we want every single partner’s [worker’s] rights to be respected.”

Locations of the 11 Michigan stores seeking to unionize:

  • 2480 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids
  • 4243 Miller Rd., Flint
  • 1141 E Grand River Ave., East Lansing
  • 2624 Lake Lansing Rd., Lansing
  • 17410 Hall Rd., Clinton Township
  • 11353 S. Saginaw St., Grand Blanc
  • 1214 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor
  • 300 S. Main St., Ann Arbor
  • 222 S. State St., Ann Arbor
  • 120 S. Zeeb Rd. #101, Ann Arbor
  • 4585 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor

In essence, more stores would be included in the vote that haven’t signaled their intent to unionize. From organizing workers’ perspectives, this would unfairly water down the vote and prevent any stores from unionizing.

But as of Feb. 23, a precedent has been set that favors store-by-store votes.

The NLRB ruled that, in an Arizona case regarding a Mesa Starbucks store, the regional director was correct in ordering an election for the single store rather than expanding the bargaining unit to a larger region.

This essentially means that the NLRB now has precedent to deny Starbucks’ requests for review if the company uses similar arguments.

“That argument has not been accepted, so that is very exciting,” said Scott Screws, a shift supervisor at the downtown Ann Arbor store off of Main and Liberty.

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

The three stores that filed Monday are now waiting to see whether they, too, will need to go through the hearing process.

Kain said there is a possibility that they could go straight to getting an election date without a hearing, depending on how things with the initial eight stores turn out.

“Starbucks has a right to a hearing, but if they continue to make the same losing argument about district wide vs store by store voting, the labor board may not hear the case if they have nothing new to argue,” Kain said. He added that he hopes Starbucks will “let them have an election without requesting any more hearings.”

A Starbucks spokesperson on Thursday declined to answer directly whether the company would cease to request hearings for new stores if the NLRB ruled against them. The spokesperson did, however, note that the company wants “every single partner’s rights to be respected, which we believe will happen through these [hearing] requests.”

The spokesperson also emphasized that they will respect the steps laid out by the NLRB.

If workers are granted an election and the union wins, the employer must then start bargaining with the union or risk an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, restaurant workers are among the least unionized in the country as compared to other occupations.


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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. 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.