Starbucks employees at a downtown San Jose shop have won their fight to unionize after a 45-day effort.
Employees at The Alameda and Julian Street Starbucks unanimously voted to unionize on May 19, despite the company’s historic opposition to unionization. The local shop is partnering with Starbucks Workers United to help complete the restructuring.
Only 24 Starbucks in California have unions, and the latest push to unionize at the downtown location came after management fired three employees in the wake of an altercation with a homeless man in February. This left the remaining 13 employees frustrated at the lack of upper management support, which led to initial unionization talks.
“We knew that going in, all of the partners were pretty enthusiastic about trying to unionize,” said Nora Smith, a barista and student at De Anza College, who started union talks amongst her team. “We knew that whatever union busting tactics (Starbucks) was going to try, probably wouldn’t really stick… We have each other’s backs.”
Starbucks calls their employees partners or associates.
Smith said the next step in the negotiations is to ask for a safer working environment and to have more say in how decisions are made at the store. The company did close the lobby at the downtown San Jose location to help partners limit their interactions with potential harmful citizens due to complaints.
“We just want to have more input in what happens,” Smith said.
Starbucks Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Andrew Trull said the company respects the partners’ rights to form a union and is committed to following the process outlined by the National Labor Relations Board on what to do next. But the company prefers working directly with the employees.
“We have held consistently that our viewpoint as a company is that we are better together with a direct employment relationship,” Trull told San José Spotlight. “We’re able to share the success and we’re able to work directly with our partners to implement changes that support them as they’re evolving.”
A Starbucks in Sunnyvale also pushed to unionize in March of this year and was successful, criticizing the corporation for being dehumanizing and not listening to its partners. Inadequate pay, scheduling issues and unheard complaints are what pushed the partners to take action.
Sebastian McJunkin, 23, one of the associates fired at the downtown location, said he and two other colleagues were working on Feb. 1 when an alleged homeless man came into the store asking for hot water.
“We don’t give out hot water to you know mentally unstable people, I should say, because there have been cases where they’ve thrown the hot water back at the barista,” McJunkin told San José Spotlight.
After trying to offer the individual room temperature water and cold water, the man started harassing other customers in the lobby.
“This guy ran at Marcel (another worker), pretty much full speed and like, pulled his hand back essentially, to punch (Marcel),” McJunkin said. “He swings at Marcel and he misses Marcel kind of like, picks him up and they fall out of the door together.”
After the authorities were called, McJunkin said Starbucks told the three employees to go back to work. But in April, the same three workers were fired due to workplace violence with an alleged customer.
McJunkin said he hopes this sends a message to the company to start changing its ideologies and how it ranks partners.
“If you’re a father or mother of a person, you would expect someone to run out from behind the counter to help keep them safe,” McJunkin said. “As your kid you would want someone to go out there and help them.”
Contact Madison Wilber at [email protected] or follow @minutewithmadison on Instagram.
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