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Arizona Starbucks becomes first outside New York to unionize

The Starbucks in the city of Mesa is now the first to unionize outside of Buffalo, New York, where organizing efforts first took off.
Starbucks employees in Mesa, AZ
Starbucks employees in Mesa, AZ celebrate on Feb. 25, 2022 after learning election results were in favor of having their store unionize.Terry Tang / AP Photo

MESA, Ariz. — Employees at a Starbucks in suburban Phoenix voted Friday to form a union, becoming the first store outside New York to organize.

Several workers from a Mesa Starbucks store cheered and hugged at a local union hall after the results came in. Workers were overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing, voting 25-3. Forty-three ballots in total were initially mailed out, organizers said.

“The way that we smoked them with how many we got — yeses — that really shows that this is really a movement for people and we just want what is kind of an inalienable right for people,” said Liz Alanna, a shift supervisor at the store. “It feels good what we were fighting for, everybody wanted.”

Starbucks “will respect the process and will bargain in good faith,” spokesman Reggie Borges said in an email.

“We hope that the union does the same,” he added.

Pro-union leaders say Starbucks workers deserve the right to collectively bargain on issues like benefits, seniority pay and pandemic safety protocols.

Tyler Ralston, another shift supervisor, said he is excited that workers now may be able to make meaningful changes.

“We would like to be able to not feel understaffed. We would like to have better working conditions, having things fixed on time. A pension of course would be a great thing,” Ralston said.

Originally scheduled for last week, the election was postponed after Starbucks filed a request for a review with the Washington, D.C.-based National Labor Relations Board.

The Seattle-based coffee giant argued that a single store should not be allowed to hold a vote. Instead, a vote should include all the locations in that store’s assigned district.

The labor board denied the request, saying it did not see any issues.

The organizers in Mesa called the request a “union busting” tactic by the company, Alanna said. She also alleged Starbucks implemented other strategies like having upper-level managers shadow workers to make sure they weren’t organizing.

Borges, the Starbucks spokesman, called accusations of union-busting “categorically false.”

The Starbucks in Mesa is now the first to unionize outside of Buffalo, New York, where organizing efforts first took off.

Over 65 stores in 20 states have filed petitions with the labor board to hold union elections since two in Buffalo unionized in the last few months, according to labor union Workers United.

Starbucks officials have spoken against unionizing, asserting the company functions best when it can work directly with its employees. Some workers have disputed that claim.

Efforts to form unions have led to tense conflict. Earlier this month, seven Starbucks workers were fired after spearheading a union campaign in Memphis, Tennessee. The company said they violated policy by reopening a store after closing time, inviting non-employees inside and doing TV interviews from there.

Employees countered that Starbucks was retaliating and said they planned to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

After decades of decline, unions have become a popular strategy. Multiple polls show union approval is high — and growing — among younger workers. U.S. union membership levels are ticking upward for workers between 25 and 34, even as they decline among other age groups, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.