Vio Kramer, a barista at the Starbucks on East Mitchell Hammock Road in Oviedo, said that in voting to unionize in early June, employees were fighting for the right to have a say in the workplace.
“[One benefit of forming a union is] the fair bargaining, we can speak our mind a little bit more… whether that is how the store is run, or benefits in general,” Kramer said.
On June 9, the Oviedo employees watched their votes being counted on Zoom by a National Labor Relations Board member. The store’s employees voted 24-6 in favor of unionizing, making them the first of the coffee chain’s Central Florida employees to unionize and, adding to the trend toward organized workplaces nationwide.
Kramer said that becoming a union was a team effort at the Oviedo store and that the team is supporting each other, whether a team member decides to join the union or not.
“Florida is a right-to-work state, so if you don’t want to pay your union dues, you don’t have to,” Kramer said.
A tough road
In addition to Starbucks, other large corporations, including Apple, Amazon and Google, have seen a movement to organize among employees.
Unionizing has met with resistance by some company leaders. Starbucks’ interim CEO Howard Schultz claimed in a video call obtained by More Perfect Union, a media outlet that focuses on accountability and policy change, that unions would be “some outside force that’s going to dictate or disrupt who we are.”
University of Central Florida College of Business Department of Management Chairman Ron Piccolo said that some of the problems leaders face with the formation of unions come from the company’s inability to restructure what isn’t working.
“On the one hand, being part of the union would provide a little more job security, but on the other hand, from the company’s point of view, it limits their flexibility to move employees up or down,” Piccolo said.
Kramer, the Oviedo barista, told Oviedo Community News that upper management stressed the importance of every employee at the East Mitchell Hammock location voting on the unionizing decision.
“[Our manager] had meetings with each of us telling us, ‘here’s how to vote, here’s what unionizing is’, at least from the company’s view. And their platform was like, ‘we want everyone to vote because, at least in our eyes, they can get as many no’s as possible’,” Kramer said.
“One thing I do want to highlight is that it wasn’t because of our current store manager… It was because of upper management. And there are some working conditions we weren’t really a fan of,” Kramer added.
In Schultz’s video call, where he encouraged more Starbucks employees to vote if their store moves to unionize, he said “no one should allow a vocal minority to control the destiny of a particular store, or district, or region, or the entire company.”
While Starbucks and other major companies can’t stop their workers from unionizing, there is a pattern of trouble following where unions go.
One store in Ithaca, New York recently formed a union and was abruptly shut down a month later, with the company citing safety issues the store had brought up months earlier, a decision Starbucks said was “unrelated to the unionization effort.” The store’s union committee then filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, alleging that Starbucks was “retaliating against worker activities.”
Employees have also alleged that Starbucks managers threatened the loss of healthcare benefits for transgender employees seeking gender-affirming health care, according to a filing with the NLRB. These benefits are currently included in Starbucks’ benefits package.
“Most workers are gay and trans [at this location] and we’re proud of that, but also like, [Starbucks is] a place where the community has found safety and security to become who they are,” Kramer said.
So far, 187 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize out of 9,000 stores nationwide. Nearly 300 more locations in 35 states have filed to unionize. The Starbucks location on Park Avenue in Winter Park has filed for unionization but is waiting on the vote to take place.
Piccolo suggested that the effect of those unionizations would be to put other businesses under pressure to unionize.
“If [Starbucks], which has done an awful lot, at least from the outside looking in, to accommodate employees and provide a comfortable and productive work environment, if that place is getting unionized, then for sure other companies that aren’t as friendly to their employees could be under pressure.”
Hesitancy to unionize
While there are benefits and detriments to joining a union, unionization has become increasingly popular in recent years with younger workers. Kramer said that one of the drawbacks of the push to form a union was how little some employees knew about unions.
“I think there was a little bit of hesitancy because there’s not enough information spread around unionizing, so [the vote] was called quickly because we were able to fill each other in on what unionizing was,” Kramer explains.
Piccolo speculated that the uptick in unions among younger people was because “young professionals and young people in general just have lost confidence in institutions.”
The Winter Springs Starbucks location has not filed or voted to unionize, according to filings with the NLRB.
Despite all the challenges involved, Kramer expressed gratitude that the store moved forward with the organizing process.
“It’s confusing at first, but not as hard as it looks. But yeah, overall it’s worth it.”