Starbucks' Mission Street location on Santa Cruz's Westside.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Federal unionization hearing begins for Santa Cruz Starbucks; other stores moving forward

Just weeks after workers at Starbucks locations on Ocean Street and Mission Street filed to unionize, their first hearing in front of the National Labor Relations Board took place Thursday. Meanwhile, other nearby locations are moving closer to filing themselves.

Local Starbucks’ efforts to unionize keep progressing, as the Ocean Street and Mission Street locations had their first hearing in front of the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday. On Friday, local union organizer Joseph Thompson is scheduled to testify.

After the hearing, which will span multiple days, the NLRB will make the decision on whether to “certify an election,” verifying that union organizing activity meets the qualifications of federal law. If certified, expect a vote to occur in mid-March.

More activity could be on the horizon. Of the five Central Coast locations that Lookout has reported as being in the process of obtaining pro-union signatures, one is now closer to filing and the other four might be only a few weeks out.

Unionization is a process, and this NLRB hearing is just one early step in it.

Fernando Hernandez is the lead organizer with the Western States Regional Joint Board of Workers United and helped with the local Starbucks’ initial organizing. He says the current hearing will shed light on the viewpoints of both the company and the workers.

“In these hearings, both parties will give their side of the story, and the company might ask questions about whether or not things have changed since the workers announced the push to unionize,” he said.

Hernandez added that the hearing is likely to include deliberate delays and arguments against a union.

“This is where the company can, at different points, try to stall as much as they can,” he said. “Essentially they’re going to try to delay a vote for as long as possible.”

Hernandez added that the process, on top of long-established NLRB procedures required to certify the signatures and bargaining unit, could postpone the election for up to two months after the hearing finishes.

He said the local workers should prepare for the long haul.

“It all depends on how the company wants to negotiate,” Hernandez said. “I’ve seen some get ready for negotiations quickly, but seeing the Starbucks tactics, it might go on for a long time.”

Starbucks management has declined to comment on the local unionization efforts.

Companies can contest the process, and few immediately acknowledge the legitimacy of the union after being presented with a petition signed by those wanting to unionize. Time is often a useful tool for companies resisting unionization.

“A lot of employers don’t trust the signatures stating that workers want to unionize, so they opt for an election,” said Cesar Lara, executive director of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council. “But delays in getting to that point are caused by anything from the employer or union asking for more time, to something technical like the employer questioning the validity of member signatures.”

Union leaders say their concern is that the longer a company delays, the likelier it is that the union push will dissolve.

“Some employers may intentionally drag their feet past the year mark and some workers might quit or get fired and new ones more favorable to the company may come in,” said Lara, adding that this can lead to tensions within the workplace and result in workers wanting out of the union. “At that point, you would have to collect signatures again and start at square one.”