The Next Starbucks?

by | Aug 25, 2022 | NLRB, Retail, UFCW, Union Organizing

People sure are in a rush to declare a Starbucks 2.0, although capturing lightning in a bottle will prove to be difficult, especially since the momentum of a campaign can give way to inertia. Bloomberg Law’s data analysis shows that moving from union victory to a contract is a process that often takes well over 400 days. That frustration could be contagious, and here’s a follow-up tidbit from ex-VP candidate/Senator Tim Kaine: “About a third of victorious unions can’t get a contract in the first three years.”

For workers in industries with high turnover, organization can be difficult to achieve in the first place – getting workers to stick around for over a year until they see sought after change. That’s an interminable wait, and the union might not ever secure the results that they promised. Momentum still exists for unions to find footholds and try to crank out more successful campaigns, so let’s dive into the latest highlights:

  • Trader Joes looks like the current most likely candidate for “the next Starbucks” title. After the first store unionized in Hadley, MA, a second store unionized in Minneapolis, MN. A third effort fizzled in Boulder, CO when the UFCW pulled the petition (see Phil’s Insight). In NYC, however, workers at the company’s only wine shop claim that the company shuttered the location after workers began to organize and believed they would have enough cards for an election petition.
  • Apple does not (at the moment) look like the next Starbucks. An initial wave of steadily building momentum (with dozens of stores starting to organize after a Maryland store became the first Apple Store to unionize) has fizzled out with no further announcements. Apple did bump up retail pay about 10% company-wide, which seems to have worked some magic, although it’s too soon to draw real conclusions because multiple unions (including the CWA) continue efforts.
  • Starbucks does continue to influence more baristas, too. In San Jose, California, workers at the Nirvana Soul coffeeshop announced that every one of the cafe’s few dozen workers signed authorization cards.
  • The cannabis industry continues to be a major target for unions, and it’s no wonder why this is the case. Growing revenue that could lead to $41 billion (in 2026) and over 320,000 current full-time jobs in the industry adds up to a lot of potential dues. March 2022 saw the first cannabis shop union contract in Chicago with more follow-ups in process.
  • Restaurant workers continue to provide union fodder not imaginable only a few years ago. In Austin, Texas, workers at a trio of local pizzerias began to organize with Restaurant Workers United and filed NLRB petitions for votes. In Portland, Oregon, workers at a locally famous Voodoo Doughnut location organized as Doughnut Workers United and lost an initial election last year but filed for a do-over.
  • Another brick-and-mortar bookstore, the legendary West Hollywood Book Soup, has unionized after a grassroots effort spurred on by ongoing labor shortages.
  • Formerly known as an online bookstore, Amazon now serves as a retail giant, among other endeavors, and the company’s union activity has taken a turn. The Amazon Labor Union announced plans to focus on their JFK8 warehouse battle while suspending efforts at nearby locations. In San Bernardino, California, however, up to 150 workers at an Amazon air hub recently walked off their jobs while citing heat safety.

A United Food and Commercial Workers local president in Missouri recently penned an article about his union’s push for more “flex workers” in grocery stores. It’s a strategy (he advocates for treating retail grocery workers like Uber drivers) that the union hopes will recruit more members while allowing workers to float between stores in two local family-owned grocery chains in order to maintain hours needed for benefits. It’s an interesting read, especially in the age of self-checkouts and the growth of the gig economy, which unions would obviously love to harness.

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