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2 Northern California Starbucks Stores Could Become First in the State to Unionize

The results of the vote will be an indicator of the union effort’s momentum in the Bay Area

A green-and-white Starbucks sign. Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The American labor battle of the day continues. In one corner is Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, anti-union presidential-hopeful, and, in the other, the youth of Generation Union. Now, the fight has arrived on the Bay Area’s doorstep: Starbucks Workers United in Santa Cruz will hold a union vote count for two shops on May 11. Both stores have 31 employees who would ultimately be represented by Starbucks Workers United, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

This next major moment for the campaign is set to unfold at 11:30 a.m. at SEIU Local 521 office at 517 Mission Street in Santa Cruz. The two stores, located at 745 Ocean Street and 1901 Mission Street, would be California’s first Starbucks shops to formalize their relationship with the union, though they’re not the only shops in the state working toward joining. Whatever the outcome, the results could be a barometer for the power of the union effort in the rest of Northern California.

Joe Thompson, the 18-year-old UC Santa Cruz student who worked at the Ocean Street location, is a lead organizer for the Santa Cruz drive and says they’re confident the vote won’t be close. They were one of the leaders of the January 21 union card signing that brought the localized movement to this week’s vote, and their store was the first in California to file. “I’m hoping it will be pretty much a landslide,” Thompson says. “It’ll depend on how effective Starbucks’ union busting efforts were.”

Joe Thompson presenting at the May Day rally at San Francisco’s city hall. Joe Thompson

The vote count comes as the coffee giant faces allegations of unfair labor practices at stores in Santa Cruz and around the country. The Starbucks Workers United union filed charges against Starbucks for violating captive audience law, amongst other violations — in the case of the Santa Cruz stores, the union claims store managers cornered employees to intimidate them into voting against the union. Recently, the NLRB decided to push forward with a formal complaint against the company; the outcome will decide whether or not Starbucks’ anti-union rhetoric and strategies have violated national labor law. (According to Thompson, since the NLRB offered Starbucks until Friday, May 6 to settle before filing a complaint, and the company missed the deadline, a complaint will be leveled sometime this week.) The Santa Cruz locations will be two of the stores impacted by that decision. This is only the most recent complaint leveraged at the company during the nationwide unionization effort; the company recently announced employees would receive wage increases only if they’re not unionized, for example.

The union will host a rally at the Mission Street store at 2:30 pm, win or lose. The effort also segues into Thompson’s run for state assembly, in which they’re squaring off against Gail Pellerin, Liz Lawler, and Rob Rennie. They hope the election on June 7 will be a light at the end of the tunnel for organizers in the area, and another chance to push the effort further. “This vote is extremely important,” Thompson says. “I don’t think we’re going to lose at all.”

At a May Day rally they spoke at on May 1, Thompson says they were approached by numerous Bay Area Starbucks employees who wanted to learn about how they could get a union effort started. They weren’t ready to share names yet, but one store in San Francisco looked like “the next place for the fight” and a few in Mill Valley. They’d like to get a number of stores in San Francisco and Oakland going, too. West Roseville has one Starbucks shop unionizing, shops in Lincoln and Sacramento are in the works, and on June 6, a third Santa Cruz shop (1955 41st Ave. in Capitola) will receive union ballots, too. “These corporations won’t give us better working conditions voluntarily,” Thompson says. “We hope the vote shows there are people who care about increasing their livelihoods. We want to branch out and keep spreading.”

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