On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
On Monday evening, Starbucks sent a blatantly anti-union email to workers eligible to vote in union elections at three stores that begins on November 10.
“We want you to vote no,” the email addressed to workers at three unionizing stores in Buffalo, New York, reads, “Unless you are positive you want to pay a Union to represent you to us, you must vote no. There is no opt out if the majority of voters vote yes, regardless of how you voted.”
If the Starbucks baristas vote to unionize, they’d be the first workers at the vehemently anti-union coffee giant, which operates more than 8,000 coffee shops, to do so, and they could inspire others around the country to organize.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board sided with workers, announcing that elections would be held at three separate stores beginning via mail-in ballots beginning November 10 and ending on December 8. Starbucks wanted to open the voting up to stores across the entire Buffalo region, which would have given it the advantage in the election as some stores have not yet organized. The vote count will take place on December 9.
“There’s a lot going on,” the email continued. “We want to talk about and connect on the union vote and what it means and doesn’t mean for you, because it has a potentially big impact on your job and your store.”
This summer, Starbucks baristas under the banner Starbucks Workers United filed for union elections at three stores in Buffalo, citing erratic schedules, understaffing, and issues taking sick days. In turn, Starbucks—which has has often touted progressive values—launched a full-blown attack campaign, holding obligatory anti-union meetings, bringing in Rosann Williams, the president of Starbucks North America, and other executives to sweep the floors and do dishes, and giving workers wage increases and remedies for problems that workers have been complaining about for years (to demonstrate that a union, in the company’s mind, isn’t necessary).
Last week, Starbucks circulated a poster at one of the unionizing stores in Buffalo that said that it expected “infectious energy” from all workers and “all customers [to have] the best moment in their day” at Starbucks. Meanwhile, unionizing workers at the Buffalo stores say workers have been overextended for months while they’ve been expected to risk their health and safety at work.
In September, the company temporarily closed one of the unionizing stores for training purposes, but after Motherboard covered the store closure, Starbucks reopened the store within days.