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South Salt Lake Journal

SSL Starbucks workers seek to join labor union

Jun 06, 2023 10:43AM ● By Zak Sonntag

Starbucks workers at the South Salt Lake store on State Street filed a formal petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in May, making the location the fourth in Utah to pursue collective bargaining, and one of over 300 nationwide. 

“I decided to look into unionizing to bring back the Starbucks culture that I remember having when I first started in 2013. With my fellow partners I feel this has brought us closer and is aiming for a better working environment than we could get from Starbucks alone. To any partners that feel like they have little to no support from their leaders I recommend taking the action my partners have taken,” said shift supervisor Gregory Rylant.

The decision is the latest notch in the ramping battle between corporate and labor at the Seattle-based company, against which NLRB has issued 93 complaints covering 328 unfair labor practices since late 2021, according to a report by the Guardian.

The NLRB rulings appear to have embolden workers, as seen in May when baristas in Utah confronted Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan at a Verizon Wireless Shareholder meeting, of which Narasimhan is also a Board member. The confrontation, captured in a Starbucks Workers United TikTok video, shows an employee imploring Narasimhan to sign the Fair Election Principles, guidelines for honoring workers’ rights to “organize free from fear and intimidation.”

In the video Narasimhan appears to ignore the workers.

Amanda Merrill, union member and worker at the Fourth and Fourth Starbucks store in Salt Lake City, was one of the employees there to press the unions’ case.  

“Today, Laxman heard his baristas’ demands. We want our organizing rights respected, an end to illegal union-busting, and a fair contract,” Merrill said in a press release.

SSL location workers say joining the union will help promote worker dignity, company culture, employment stability and working conditions in an environment they say is increasingly stressful at the 2101 S. State St. store.

They believe joining the union will help fix issues like harassment, which baristas say have been ignored by upper-management.

“We’ve had a few different people that were bullies. One in particular who called people names and was generally very unpleasant towards other people in the store,” said Denelle Durling, 22, who has been with the company since 2022. “These concerns were brought up with our manager and our district manager but nothing was done about them. And that was very frustrating for everyone involved.”

Durling is confident the unionization effort will help improve store culture by giving workers a voice on issues like harassment mitigation. She’s also hopeful the union will bring an end to volatile scheduling where unpredictable shift-hours create problems for work/life balance, as well as chronic understaffing liable to put onerous demands on employees.

“It gets to the point on a daily basis where we’re super packed and we don’t have enough people on the floor. Stickers lined up, a line in the drive-thru, you have all these drinks to make but you’re only one person,” said Durling, who explained this makes it hard to treat customers warm and welcoming, one of the company policies.

“It’s really hard to do that when you’re stressed out of your mind because customers also want to have their drink made quickly and on time,” Durling said.

Representatives with Starbucks Workers United say their organizing efforts in recent years have led to a host of improvements for employees. Victories include the enablement of credit card tips, dress code concessions, seniority pay, as well as cost-of-living adjustment policies.

Responding to the NLRB violations, union supporters have accused corporate of an unduly aggressive “union busting” effort. Albeit, labor appears to be responding in kind with one of the most rapidly expanding union campaigns of the 21st century, according to accounts in the Guardian.

“We are unionizing because we have gone too long without support and the partnership Starbucks claims to have with us. We are unionizing not just for ourselves, but for service workers everywhere who have been underpaid and underappreciated for too long,” said Rylant in a press release.

Workers at SSL Starbucks anticipate a vote in June. λ