Workers at a Starbucks in Santa Cruz filed a union petition with the National Labor Relations Board, the first California store to join a growing national push to organize baristas and shift supervisors at the coffee giant.

Twenty-two of the store’s 31 workers signed union cards, said Joseph Thompson, a shift supervisor at the Starbucks who is leading organizing efforts.

Thompson said the Santa Cruz store experiences a high rate of incidents of harassment, indecent exposure and threats of violence, and employees don’t feel supported by management or corporate executives. Union discussions began in November, and the petition was filed Friday afternoon.

In early December, a Starbucks store in Buffalo, N.Y., voted in favor of forming the chain’s first union in the U.S. in several decades. Since then, workers at a cascade of stores across the country announced their own organizing campaigns to join the union, Starbucks Workers United. The organization is part of Workers United, an affiliate of the giant Service Employees International Union.

“As long as Starbucks continues placing profits over partners, partners have a moral obligation to organize,” a group of 13 former and current workers said in a letter addressed to the company’s chief executive.

Thompson said they asked corporate to provide a security guard, and the company declined.


“We know at the end of the day they don’t care about us,” Thompson said.

The store is currently closed because of the number of staff members isolating due to COVID-19, Thompson said.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thompson has worked at the company for two years and watched as Starbucks awarded hazard pay bumps and additional food benefits and then rolled them back, even as the pandemic has dragged on.

After the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a vaccine mandate for large employers, Starbucks announced it would no longer require its U.S. workers to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly coronavirus testing — one of the most high-profile companies to do so.

The NLRB has received 28 petitions from workers at Starbucks stores across the country. Two stores in Buffalo already won their union certification. A handful of other stores in Buffalo have their election dates set, but the majority are in earlier stages in the process, according to the labor board.

“I don’t think anyone quite expected the explosive response we got,” said Ian Hayes, a lawyer working with the union who filed the Santa Cruz store’s petition, as well as the earlier Buffalo store petitions.


The experience of going through the pandemic as food service workers highlighted already existing inequities and “made people feel more of a sense of urgency in taking control over their lives,” Hayes said.

He alleges Starbucks has raised baseless challenges on every petition so far, forcing parties into a formal administrative hearing process before the NLRB can order an election. “That’s slowed down the process significantly in every case,” he said, adding that the labor board “has completely, comprehensively dismissed the argument as nonsense.”

If the company takes the same course with the Santa Cruz store, it would take about two months for the labor board to set an election date, Hayes said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.