Hourly workers at the Starbucks located at 7700 Maple Street in New Orleans filed for union certification last week, joining dozens of stores nationwide in organizing at the country’s largest coffee chain, an effort that began last year in Buffalo, New York.
Approximately 10 out of 16 “partners,” as Starbucks calls baristas, at the Maple Street shop signed the petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board, says Billie Nyx, a representative of the baristas seeking to unionize. It’s the first Starbucks in the state to petition for union recognition, and the workers’ goals are simple, says Nyx, who’s worked at the Maple Street Starbucks for three years. According to Nyx, the Maple Street workers are hoping to secure seniority pay; recycling services and greener practices; and “hours security.” Nyx says the company cut hours right before Mardi Gras, and “We were so busy and understaffed.” As for seniority, Nyx says a worker who has been employed by the shop for 13 years earns the same salary as those with just a couple of years under their belt; “We don’t think that’s right,” they say.
The workers also want better health benefits — “Starbucks can afford it,” says Nyx; leave of absence benefits; minimum staff schedules and clear policies around labor cutting; and vacation time with hours that begin accruing sooner than after year. The group is asking for improved maternity leave, sick time, and mental health days. Nyx says the company “pushes mental health themes,” outwardly but doesn’t make it a priority in practice. They’re hoping, too, to overturn some policies that they feel are extreme with clauses to prevent unjust firings — Nyx says dress code violations and taking expired food can be fireable offenses. Finally, the workers want to tie wages to inflation, a timely priority. The Maple Street workers are asking for $20/hour base pay for baristas, and $23 for shift managers.
So far, they haven’t had any pushback from management, Nyx says. “We were pretty lucky, because our store manager has been quite supportive. They basically said, ‘I just want everyone to have a great time at work, and if this ensures that then go for it.’”
Nyx has talked to baristas in other stores in the city, a number of which are either in the process of organizing or have enough interested employees to begin the process. So far, “It’s honestly been such an amazing experience, everyone’s been so supportive already,” says Nyx. At every turn, Nyx says, they’ve encountered guidance, including when they went to the public library to get the union cards printed. “The guy that helped me happened to also work for the New Orleans City Workers Organizing Committee and put me in touch with all the right people to help get the word out. It’s been great.”
The first-ever Starbucks store voted to unionize in Buffalo, New York in December 2021, setting off a nationwide movement: next were workers at two Starbucks in Boston, then a downtown Chicago Starbucks, followed by one each in Arizona and Colorado. There are now more than 100 locations in states across the country, including Washington, Florida, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, and California, that have moved to unionize. Not all of the campaigns have been successful — of three Starbucks locations in Buffalo, one voted against unionization.
Louisiana is a Right to Work state; according to the NLRB website, in the 27 states with “right to work” laws, “It is up to each employee at a workplace to decide whether or not to join the union and pay dues, even though all workers are protected by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union,” meaning no one can be forced to join or pay dues to a union.
Workers at the Uptown shop — who have established their own Instagram account under the name Starbucks Workers United Maple Street — are hoping for community support, asking customers to place orders with pro-union messages for them to call out, for example, “union strong” or “vote labor.” Additionally, Nyx says, customers can chat with the baristas about unionizing, and take a business card for their district manager, and then email with support messages and compliments for the baristas. A representative from Starbucks Workers United told Eater earlier this year that “Tipping workers, leaving them notes, and wishing them good luck with their union are all great ways to support us.”
The NLRB will determine an election date at a hearing on May 9; the election will be six to eight weeks after the hearing.
Do you have a restaurant or pop-up tip? Are you working to unionize at your restaurant or bar? Let us know.