Employees at the South University Avenue, State Street and South Main Street. Starbucks locations all voted to unionize Friday, citing a lack of employee autonomy and unfair working conditions in the stores.
In a letter obtained by The Michigan Daily addressed to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, workers at the South University Avenue location alleged Starbucks upper management fails to adequately communicate with employees and fails to acknowledge employee concerns.
“We feel there is a lack of transparency, especially concerning (the employees’ district’s) wages and COVID-19 quarantining procedures,” the letter reads. “District-wide structural issues have increased the burden on Supervisors, Trainers, and Baristas alike, with many Partners being expected to take on additional responsibilities without proper compensation as management oversees multiple locations in the midst of turnover within district leadership.”
The letter also cites Starbucks’ COVID-19 policies — which include requiring face coverings only in locations where there is a local mask mandate in place — as a factor in the decision to unionize.
The decision to unionize comes after four Michigan Starbucks stores — including two in Ann Arbor — moved to unionize late last month. Several other Starbucks stores across the country have also announced plans to unionize following the first successful Starbucks employee unionization in Buffalo, N.Y., in December 2021.
In an interview with The Daily on Friday, LSA senior Riley Cain, a shift supervisor at the South University Avenue location, said the letter asks Starbucks to recognize the right to unionize and address the management issues that arose during the pandemic.
“We should have representation and be able to have a more active role in decision-making processes that are impacting not only the baristas but our whole community,” Cain said. “Because we really do care about our customers and we want to make sure that we have a say in the things that are not only impacting us, but them as well.”
According to the letter, The South University Avenue union will include all baristas and shift leaders, called shift supervisors at Starbucks, and exclude store managers and supervisors.
Lena Schramm, a barista at the South University Avenue location, said employees are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 because of the policies being implemented.
“We are the ones who are out on the floor and out interacting with customers that will be at higher risk for catching COVID-19,” Schramm said. “I feel like there should just be a better system for us to be able to communicate our grievances … about the actual logistics of shifts because sometimes they’ll put these policies into place, but they won’t know how well they work, and then they don’t end up working well for the people who are actually having to carry them out.”
In another letter to Johnson obtained by The Daily, workers at the State Street location also cited COVID-19 policies and low wages as factors contributing to the unionization. The letter also signaled inadequate training practices as a principal reason for the unionization.
“Starbucks prides itself on being a leader in ethical business practices while refusing to pay its employees what we are worth,” the State Street letter reads. “It is insulting that our hourly wage is equivalent to two standard drinks when we regularly make hundreds of drinks in an hour. This issue has not been remedied despite years of partner complaints, making unionization and collective bargaining necessary.”
Rackham student Lindsay Calka, a barista at the State Street location, said her location was having issues with mobile ordering systems. Calka said mobile orders overwhelm Starbucks workers and cause long wait times.
“It’s just a way of maximizing our production using technology and that’s wonderful for Starbucks who’s getting money for all these orders,” Calka said. “But we’re expected to double, triple, quadruple (our capacity) without any compensation.”
Victoria Provencia, a shift supervisor at the State Street location, said one of the priorities of unionization was more autonomy in turns of mobile ordering and COVID-19 policies.
“(We want) shift supervisors to have a little more control over the floor as far as (being able to say) ‘hey we’re going to be really short staffed today let’s turn off mobile ordering rather than having to call a manager (and ask),’” Provencia said.
Both the State Street and South University Avenue locations asked for a response from Johnson by 3 p.m. on Monday. Both locations will be unionizing with Workers United, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union.
Daily Staff Reporters Riley Hodder and Nirali Patel contributed reporting.
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