Two Santa Cruz Starbucks vote in favor of unionization, a first in California

19-year-old Joe Thompson speaks to a crowd of over 70 people in front of the Starbucks on Mission St. on May 11, 2022.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Workers at Starbucks locations on Mission Street and Ocean Street in Santa Cruz have voted in favor of joining the Starbucks Workers United union, becoming the first two stores in California to do so.

Months of organizing, hearings and waiting have finally paid off for Joe Thompson and the rest of the workers at two Santa Cruz Starbucks locations.

On Wednesday, three weeks after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) mailed ballots to voting members at the stores, the federal agency declared a majority of the votes cast favored joining the Starbucks Workers United union.

Of the 17 votes cast from the Mission Street store, 15 were in favor of the union and two against. Of the 14 votes cast at the Ocean Street store, 13 were in favor of the union and only one against. There were 32 eligible members at Mission Street and 28 eligible members at Ocean Street.

The two Santa Cruz stores become the first two stores in California to unionize. With the union officially recognized as the workers’ bargaining agent, Starbucks and the union will begin talks on a first contract.

Union organizer and 28th District Assembly candidate Joe Thompson — who uses gender-neutral they/them pronouns — was thrilled with the results.

“We did it! It’s amazing,” they said. “We took on a billion-dollar corporation and won. This is a huge win for all workers.”

When reached for inquiry, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the company is listening to its workers and that they have the right to organize.

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process,” the spokesperson said.

About 70 workers, supporters, and local politicians flocked to the now-unionized Mission Street Starbucks. The cafe was flooded with excited attendees, who sat around a table making signs in support of the newly formed union.

The jubilant crowd gathered just outside the cafe on the corner of Mission Street and Dufour Street. Passing drivers blared their horns and shot fists out of their windows in solidarity.

City council member and 3rd District Supervisor candidate Justin Cummings, 1st District Supervisor candidate Felipe Hernandez, 30th District Assembly candidate Jon Wizard, Salinas City councilmember Anthony Rocha and Monterey Bay Central Labor Council executive director Cesar Lara participated in the celebration.

The crowd celebrates outside of the Mission Street Starbucks
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 and members of the UC Santa Cruz Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC) also came to show their support.

Thompson, bullhorn in hand, reminded the eager crowd that this is just the beginning.

“We have lots of things to do, this is the very first step in achieving a decent workplace at Starbucks,” they said.

Thompson also said that young people need to start taking things into their own hands.

“We need to start rising up and demand a safe working place, better working conditions, and making sure that people are fighting for things that they actually give a damn about,” they said.

The NLRB is sending election ballots to a third Santa Cruz store located on 41st Avenue and Clares Street on Friday. Further, union organizers say that they are trying to organize four other Central Coast stores.

As the union heads into the negotiating stage, advocating for mental health days and increased security remain some of the top priorities. Thompson will also bring the issue of pay to the table.

“If someone calls out, then the workers on shift have to do more work, and they should be getting compensated for having to do that,” said Thompson.

Further, Thompson said that the union is ready for what may be long negotiations.

“We just need to keep fighting and connecting with team members to keep the motivation up,” they said. “We’ll always be reminding everyone about what’s at stake here.”

Ocean Street shift supervisor Noel Bennett couldn’t agree more.

“I hope this victory spreads across the state and is seen as a message to Starbucks Corporate that we, the partners, are stronger together and that their union-busting campaign will not stop us,” she said in a press release.

Michael Duffy came all the way from Oakland to support the Santa Cruz Starbucks workers in their push for unionization.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

She also denounced what she called Starbucks’ union-busting tactics, like cutting hours and offering extra benefits to non-unionizing stores.

“We call upon Starbucks to immediately stop their union-busting campaign because not only is it illegal and against their mission and values, but an outright attack on their partners’ workers’ rights,” she said.

The unionization movement — which began with a Buffalo, New York, store’s first-of-a-kind win among Starbucks locations in December 2021 — has grown significantly in a little more than a year’s time.

When the Ocean Street and Mission Street workers filed a joint request with the NLRB in February, just over 60 stores nationally had officially petitioned to unionize. As of Wednesday, nearly 250 have officially filed nationwide, with 63 now having succeeded in their efforts. Only eight stores have voted against unionizing.

Additionally, over 125 unfair labor charges have been filed against Starbucks nationally.

No union agreements have yet been finalized across the country in any of those locations, with contract negotiations expected to be quite lengthy as the massive Starbucks chain confronts new cost and labor pressures that affect the trajectory of its overall business.

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