It has been over a year since a group of Starbucks workers voted to form a union in Buffalo, New York, starting the nationwide wave of Starbucks union formation. Organizers have come together across the country to get Starbucks workers a seat at the table. Boston has seen much of the action, with historic strikes and many successful union elections. Currently, eight Starbucks stores have unionized within Boston, along with others in Brookline, Cambridge, and surrounding suburbs. This is not the first time that Starbucks workers have tried to organize, but it is the first time the efforts have taken root. In the 1980s, as Starbucks was still expanding across the country from its foundation in Seattle, workers began a union campaign, but it failed to last or spread substantially.
The basic steps of forming a union are as follows: organizing employees must collect union authorization cards and present them to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which confirms that at least 30% of employees want to form a union. Along with this, they will submit a petition to unionize. If the employer sees that a majority of workers want a union (for example, if more than half of workers sign union authorization cards), they may simply accept the union. If not, the NLRB will conduct an election. The NLRB and the organizing employees set a date for an election, often months after the initial date the petition was filed. Every employee votes, and to win a union, the vote must be more than 50% in favor.
Often, especially in a country where union membership is about 10% (half of what it was in 1983), it’s not quite that easy. Starbucks Corporate has launched what many call an extensive union-busting campaign. The company has been accused of illegally firing union organizers, giving benefits and pay raises only to workers at non unionized stores, and refusing to negotiate with unions.
As college students in desperate need of coffee, we should be aware of local union efforts. It is important to recognize where your coffee comes from, who makes it, and what their working conditions are. Below are the unionized Starbucks locations closest to the Boston College campus and some of the notable efforts workers have made to make their voices heard and conditions better for everyone. To see where else Starbucks workers are unionizing across the country, check out More Perfect Union’s map.
- Cleveland Circle: This is probably the Starbucks store Boston College students are most familiar with. They voted to unionize on May 3, 2022. Later that month workers went on strike because of dangerous conditions created when a pipe burst and was leaking water onto the machinery.
- Harvard Street: Workers at this location in Coolidge Corner, just a short ride on the C line, unionized on April 11, 2022, one of the first two in the Boston area to do so.
- 874 Commonwealth Avenue: This Starbucks location became famous last summer, when it launched a historic strike. For 64 days, workers and supporters picketed outside of the store down the street from the Boston University campus in response to the behavior of a store manager who they said imposed new unilateral scheduling policies, refused to bargain in good faith, cut hours of long–time employees and hired new ones, and perpetuated “harmful and offensive rhetoric with respect to the race, gender, and orientation of both our partners and customers.” The strike ended when workers were promised that their rights as unionized workers would be respected and that their district manager was actively seeking a replacement for the store manager.
This is only a small sample of the work that Starbucks employees have done to earn and protect their rights as workers.
A conversation about unionized coffee chains in Boston would not be complete without mentioning Pavement Coffeehouse. Workers at Pavement organized a union drive and successfully unionized all eight stores six months before even the first group of Starbucks workers won their election. Workers filed their petition to unionize on June 1, 2021, and the owner of the chain recognized the union the following day, forgoing the need for an election. These workers were the first to unionize a café in Massachusetts. Pavement has locations all around the city, but the two closest to Boston College are at 1243 Commonwealth Avenue (right on the B line) And 415 Western Avenue in Brighton (accessible by the 86 bus).
No matter where you get your coffee (or other hot or iced beverage of your choice), there are an abundance of opportunities to support union workers across the city. And with Americans’ support for labor unions at a 57-year high of 71%, it’s the perfect time to learn more about the wave of workers coming together to fight for better wages and conditions.
English and communication major. WZBC 90.3 FM DJ. Lover of the Midwest, reading, and attempting to be outdoorsy.