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Starbucks employees at four Michigan locations — two in Ann Arbor — announced Jan. 28 they are moving to unionize in protest of the company ending hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the limited safety protocols. 

The news came after several other Starbucks locations across the country signaled their plans to unionize, including the first company-owned store to successfully unionize in Buffalo, New York. The following four locations in Michigan submitted their petition for union elections to the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 28. 

  • 120 S. Zeeb Rd., Suite 101, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
  • 17410 Hall Rd., Clinton Township, MI 48038 
  • 4585 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108
  • 11353 S. Saginaw St., Grand Blanc, MI 48439

The four locations will be organizing with Workers United (SEIU) and will also be joining the Starbucks Workers United movement. According to a press release obtained by The Michigan Daily, a majority of workers at the Michigan locations signed union authorization cards indicating their support of the move to unionize. 

News of the unionization came as a result of rising frustrations among workers at the Michigan locations. Ryder Meilstrup-Eady, a shift supervisor at the Washtenaw Avenue location, detailed a harsh work environment, saying he and his coworkers often joked about the toll their work experiences had on their lives and relationships with other workers.

“We all like to joke about work trauma, or how work trauma brings us together,” Meilstrup-Eady said. “But honestly, that’s not really a joke.”

Starbucks employees also said another source of stress falls on understaffing, a factor that many local and national businesses have recently experienced due to COVID-19. Jina Henderson — an employee at the Washtenaw Avenue location — detailed how understaffing affects them, especially in the midst of increased call-offs due to employees needing to call in sick.

“We do not have people hired in but we also had a bunch of call-offs regularly,” Henderson said. “When that happens, we basically just have to suck it up. We have to do their job. It’s very stressful, and the customers get really angry.”

Workers also express increased discontent growing out of the Starbucks mobile ordering system. At many locations, a customer can put in an online order to show up at the store with it already being prepared. Meilstrup-Eady says, however, that employees have little to no control over the mobile ordering process, which can result in miscommunications between prep times and customer’s expectations..

“(The mobile ordering system) doesn’t tell them that there’s already 30 or 40 people ahead of them at the time they’re ordering,” Meilstrup-Eady said. “So, when they show up five minutes later like ‘Where’s my drinks?’ I’m like ‘We’re 40 minutes behind again.’”

LSA junior Bennett Proegler, a shift supervisor at the S. Zeeb Road location, said the mobile ordering issue affects both the customer and the worker experience.

“It’s also hard for the baristas,” Proegler said. “They get exhausted by the end of the day if it’s super busy and people are yelling at you and you have to work really fast.”

To Meilstrup-Eady, this problem could be solved if shift supervisors were able to manage the mobile ordering system.

“I should be able to have the power to turn off mobile ordering so we can get caught up,” Meilstrup-Eady said. “So we can also improve the customer experience.”

Concerns about the mobile app is only one part of the Starbucks’ policy that employees at the store level say they are not in control of, and yet have to follow. Employees say there is also worry around recent COVID-19 policies, as locations are not allowed to deny customers service if they are not wearing a mask. According to Meilstrup-Eady, these complaints address points of additional stress in their working environment.

“It’s so stressful working in this environment, because of understaffing, because we’re underpaid, because of COVID regulations, because of so many other aspects,” Meilstrup-Eady said. “It’s just not a good workplace to be in at the moment.”

Workers at the Starbucks locations have also expressed discontent with their pay. According to Proegler, there is a disconnect between the prices of products and their payment.

“With the normal drink being like $7, in just two drinks a barista has made their entire hourly wage,” Proegler said. “In less than a minute they’ve made their entire hourly wage.”

Meilstrup-Eady said there is a lack of communication and understanding between employees at individual Starbucks locations and those who control company policies.

“I feel like upper management doesn’t care,” Meilstrup-Eady said. “They make all these rules, they make all these regulations, but we don’t get a say in that.”

This disconnect has taken form in a lack of corporate support, as Proegler detailed a time when a customer was angry with him and called him offensive slurs. Proegler said he and his fellow shift supervisors agreed they would no longer offer her service. Proegler said the customer later complained to upper management, who then held a meeting informing the store that they should not have denied the customer service, and that in the future, they were not allowed to do so. The Daily was unable to corroborate the communication at this meeting.

“It was really hurtful,” Proegler said. “But it was a great opportunity for us to organize.”

According to Proegler, unionizing is the key to fixing issues that come out of the gap between corporate and the individual locations.

“Starbucks always tells us we’re partners,” Proegler said. “But that’s really not true. The reason we’re forming this union is because we think that we can be partners.” 

Proegler said an increase in control for employees at individual store locations would result in a more balanced power dynamic, which might resolve some of the issues employees have with company.

“This is one of the first times I’ve worked at Starbucks where I genuinely feel I have the power,” Proegler said. “I don’t feel like I’m just being held down by what they have to say.”

Daily Staff Reporter Riley Hodder can be reached at