Lookout Update: Still no local Starbucks union negotiations, but NLRB to hold unfair labor practice hearing

A crowd celebrates outside the Mission Street Starbucks after May's vote to unionize.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Three months ago, the Starbucks on Mission Street and Ocean Street in Santa Cruz became the first Starbucks stores in California to vote to unionize. The process of agreeing to a contract was expected to move slowly, and negotiations still have yet to begin. There’s currently no timetable for the bargaining kickoff, but the parties will meet in federal court Sept. 13 for a hearing on a charge of unfair labor practices.

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The Starbucks locations on Mission Street and Ocean Street in Santa Cruz made history in May when their workers voted in favor of unionization, the first of the coffee giant’s stores in California to do so.

Though contract negotiations have not yet begun, the Starbucks Workers United union will participate in a Sept. 13 hearing that considers its claims of unfair labor practices. That March complaint cites “captive audience meetings,” enforcing dress codes discriminately, and cutting hours. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a formal complaint against Starbucks in May, charging the company with violating federal labor law.

Lookout reached out to Starbucks on Monday for comment on the matter but had not gotten a response as of publication time.

“They were going to change our hours and reduce the number of people on staff without bargaining,” said union organizer Joe Thompson (they/them). “Then, of course, they’ve been tearing down our union literature that we had up in the break area.”

Thompson said this has only further motivated staff to continue pushing forward.

“We’re moving on strong, and now that the staff is back to work after a three-day strike, there has definitely been a boost in morale,” said Thompson, who is no longer employed by Starbucks but continues to work with the union. “There’s going to be good momentum heading into negotiations once we finally get started.”

As unionization activity continues across the country, Starbucks has begun permanently closing stores. The company shuttered 16 locations in July alone, citing safety concerns like violence and drug use. None has closed in Santa Cruz, though safety was among the concerns that prompted unionization efforts here initially.

Thompson isn’t convinced that safety is the driving issue.

“I believe that out of the stores that Starbucks has closed on a national level, 42% of them had organizing activity,” they said. “It’s basically [CEO] Howard Schultz saying, ‘Because you’re raising concerns about safety and want a living wage, you’re going to be out of a job.’ He doesn’t want to work with the union.”

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