The Starbucks location in the Castro voted to form a union, becoming the first location in San Francisco to successfully do so.
The location at 4094 18th St.—sometimes called BearBucks—is part of a nationwide Starbucks unionization effort over the past two years. The effort originated when a Starbucks location in Buffalo, New York successfully organized a union. Since then, more than a hundred locations across the country have voted to form a union.
The union drive succeeded with a 7-2 vote. Six workers at the location chose to abstain.
James Kreiss, a worker who helped lead the unionization drive, said the decision was inspired by the challenges that the location and its workers faced during the pandemic. Chief among them was a four-month closure due to plumbing issues that spanned last December through April.
“During that time we weren’t receiving good information about what was going on and we weren’t receiving good support from our superiors,” Kreiss said. “We just felt lost, alone and we were really struggling.”
The closure also impacted the customer base, who migrated out to other cafes and stores.
Kreiss said when the store reopened, that experience led them to launch their union drive. At the negotiating table, Kreiss said the workers will be looking for better working conditions and better pay.
“We think today’s results are a win-win for employees and the company and look forward to working side by side,” Kreiss said.
Steve Zhou, who has worked at Starbucks for more than four years, said he voted for the union in part to put management and labor on more equal footing. He said at a previous location he experienced a manager who did not follow store policy and conducted retaliatory firings of staff, including of himself.
While he was later reinstated and his manager was terminated, the experience made him realize the need for a more organized presence.
“Sometimes I feel like management looks at us like we’re disposable and I just don’t agree with that,” Zhou said, adding that the restroom facilities are still in need of improvement.
In an interview with the New York Times, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said that the company is not in need of a union, calling it a “third-party” that will hurt the ability of the business to succeed.
Starbucks has been ramping up its efforts in recent months to quash the unionization drive by introducing pay increases for employees, while excluding workers at unionized stores.
"As we’ve said throughout, we will respect the NLRB’s process and bargain in good faith with the stores that chose to be represented by Workers United. We hope the union does the same," a Starbucks spokesperson said.
On Monday, Starbucks asked the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily suspend all union elections, alleging that members of the federal agency were inappropriately working with union organizers.
“We're really proud of the results from today, and I hope that this win really encourages our sister stores to also pursue unionization,” Kreiss said.
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org