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Starbucks workers in Buffalo vote to unionize; cafe is first company-owned store in U.S. with union

Another location voted against unionizing, and the final vote at a third cafe was delayed after seven ballots were challenged.

Workers at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, won their unionization vote Thursday, making their store the first company-owned U.S. location to successfully organize.

Starbucks' location on Elmwood Avenue was the first to unionize, with a 19-8 vote, a victory for the workers after a battle for the right to hold independent elections.

Starbucks Workers United, which has the backing of the broader Workers United union, won a National Labor Relations Board decision in October to allow separate votes to go forward at three Buffalo-area locations. The board rejected Starbucks’ attempt to hold a single vote with 20 stores in the region.

Another Starbucks in the area, the Camp Road location, voted 8-12 against unionizing. One ballot was voided, and two others were challenged.

A final count at the third location, at Genesee Street, has been delayed because some votes were challenged. There were 15 votes in favor of unionization and nine against on Thursday; the seven challenged ballots could sway the outcome, NBC affiliate WGRZ reported.

Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks, said by phone: "Every partner matters. It’s how we built the company and we will continue to run the company. We will continue to focus on the best Starbucks experience we can deliver every partner and our customers."

The Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y., where workers voted to unionize.Lindsay DeDario / Reuters

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has supported the unionization effort. He and workers held a livestreamed town hall Monday to discuss what workers hoped to achieve by unionizing.

Sanders tweeted his congratulations to the Elmwood location Thursday, saying the win was historic.

"The company should stop pouring money into the fight against the union and negotiate a fair contract now," Sanders said.

At the town hall Monday, workers at the store discussed their hopes for better pay and leave policies and denounced what they said were the corporation's attempts to bust the union.

Michelle Eisen, who said she had been with the company for 11 years, alleged that it sent “support managers” to their locations to stifle union conversations.

“What I’d like to see happen when we do unionize, I’d like to be a voice for my co-workers,” Eisen told Sanders. “I’d like to have a seat at the table and a voice in the company that allows us to have a say in our working conditions, a say in our pay." 

Borges said accusations of anti-union practices were "categorically false."

Another worker, Lexi Rizzo, told Sanders that her colleagues have struggled to maintain minimum hour requirements to qualify for benefits, including maternity leave. She said she believes that "when you love something, you fight to make it better."

"Starbucks claims to have progressive values and be this morally upstanding company,” Rizzo said Monday. “When we first came out with our union campaign, I truly did believe in my heart that they would sign the fair election principles, that they would recognize our campaign.

"But instead, we’ve been met with all these vicious anti-union tactics that my partners and I have told you about." 

This is a breaking story. Please check back for updates.