Employees at a Starbucks store in Louisville planned to file a petition this week to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board, joining a labor movement that has sprung up at the coffee giant’s stores over the past four months.
Starbucks workers at 12911 Factory Lane in northeast Jefferson County would become the first group of Starbucks employees in Kentucky to join the effort. Nearly 135 Starbucks stores across the United States have voted to unionize since December 2021, when workers at a store in Buffalo, New York, became the first to do so.
Nathan Potter, an 18-year-old shift manager at the Factory Lane cafe, said most of the site’s 40 staff were on board with starting the process, which would include a vote overseen by the NLRB, and if approved. , the store will enter into negotiations with the company.
“I think the most important thing is just being able to sit at the table,” said Potter, one of the union organizers. “The Starbucks company can make whatever decisions they want, unilaterally on us, and we just don’t have the ability to say anything about it or do anything, but with a union, it gives us the ability to, you know, protect ourselves.”
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The Seattle-based company, which has more than 60 stores in the Louisville area, did not immediately respond to a Courier Journal request for comment Tuesday afternoon. But the chain has been actively fighting unionization for decades, saying its more than 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores perform best when working directly with employees.
In a letter to U.S. employees in December 2021, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson touted company benefits, including paid parental and sick leave and free tuition through Arizona State University. Late last month, the company also announced wage increases, saying all of its U.S. employees would be earning at least $15 — and up to $23 — an hour by next summer.
The company raised wages for Kentucky employees to $12 last year, Potter said, adding that people were paid $10 or $11 an hour before that.
“Starbucks likes to talk a lot about how they have great perks, but I think it’s really distracting that they pay so little,” Potter said.
Michelle Eisen, one of Buffalo’s labor organizers, said in a news release Tuesday that she was pleased with the effort to organize workers in Kentucky. “The decision to take on a multi-billion dollar company that has been quick to take an anti-union stance is to be applauded.”
Potter, who shares an apartment with his brother, said he became involved in the organizing effort after starting work at the store in early January 2022.
When it started, he said, “it seemed like an overwhelming majority of people supported a union idea or had a union, but everyone was just scared to start that process, and all I I’ve really done is to get it started for everyone.”
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If a union becomes certified or recognized in the Starbucks case, the company would be required to negotiate terms of employment with a union representative, the NLRB website said.
Potter said he would not resign even if the union process is unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he thinks his colleagues would quit their jobs if they couldn’t negotiate a union, and with it, better wages.
Potter said baristas like him need more than $12 an hour to survive on a daily basis.
“One of the biggest motivators for me was that the majority of my salary is spent on things just to get by,” he said.
The Associated Press and USA TODAY contributed to this report.
Contact Ana Alvarez Briñez at [email protected]; follow her on Twitter at @SoyAnaAlvarez