Starbucks has declined to bargain with newly unionized workers at the Seattle Reserve Roastery, citing plans to appeal their April unionization vote, the company announced Thursday.
The National Labor Relations Board released the vote count on April 21. Employees at the roastery, located at Pike Street and Melrose Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, had voted 38-27 to unionize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
The coffee retailer now argues that the vote should have taken place in person rather than by mail so that more workers had a chance to participate. The company has declined to bargain with the union while appealing the decision to the NLRB.
“The NLRB has recognized that mail ballot elections can reduce voter participation by as much as 30%,” Starbucks wrote in its Thursday letter to union organizers. The company said a third of the Seattle roastery’s workers didn’t participate in the election. In contrast, an in-person union vote at a New York roastery generated 95% turnout, the company said.
Union organizers say this refusal to bargain is a continuation of the company’s effort to drag its heels and demoralize pro-union workers.
“Clearly they’re just using this as another stall tactic,” said Alex Riccio, an organizer with Workers United. Riccio said Starbucks had twice previously asked the NLRB to hold a mail-in vote, and the board ruled against them both times.
“It’s unfortunate that the company chooses to continue conducting itself in this way rather than just bargaining in good faith,” he said.
Starbucks said the COVID-19 conditions surrounding the April vote did not meet the National Labor Relations Board’s standards for a mail-in ballot. To trigger a mail-in election, the 14-day trend in COVID cases must be increasing or the county must have at least a 14-day testing positivity rate of at least 5%.
The Capitol Hill shop at Broadway and East Denny Way, where baristas unanimously voted to unionize in March, became the first union victory at a company-owned store in Starbucks’ hometown since the 1980s.
In June, workers at that Capitol Hill store walked out in protest over how employees at other locations were being treated. Other Seattle locations have announced interest in union campaigns, including the First Avenue and Pike Street location where workers were suddenly reassigned to different stores with little to no notice.
Across 36 states, workers at over 300 company-owned Starbucks locations have filed for union elections or announced they plan to unionize. Nearly 200 stores have voted to unionize, while 37 have rejected unions. Workers at some licensed Starbucks locations in airports and grocery stores are already unionized.
Recently, Starbucks announced it would close five Seattle-area stores because of public safety concerns.