Westlake Starbucks Store Declares Intent to Unionize

Anti-union video message from CEO Howard Schultz sparked organizing efforts at Crocker Park

Rally against union busting at W. 6th Starbucks - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Rally against union busting at W. 6th Starbucks

When Starbucks baristas across the country were forced to watch a video from CEO Howard Schultz that, among other things, attempted to portray unionization efforts as the work of an outside force antagonistic to the company's culture, workers at the Crocker Park location began talking amongst themselves about forming a union there. 

"The video was essentially anti-union," one barista told Scene, speaking on condition of anonymity. "[Schultz] said there was no need for a union, that it would be a third party dictating decisions and that it would create a wedge in the company."

That message didn't exactly resonate with workers. Starbucks employees are referred to as "partners" in the company lingo, and the partners in Westlake recognized that if they were, according to Schultz, the company's top priority, it didn't make sense that so many of them were having their hours slashed.

Partners can begin receiving employee benefits like healthcare when they work twenty hours per week or more, and partners were regularly being  scheduled below that threshold.

"It was honestly like 19 or19.5," the barista told Scene.  "That was the big reason I think a lot of us started talking about a union.  Partners rely on this job for their primary income, to make rent... But the Schultz video sparked those conversations. It came across as very belittling." 

The workers filed paperwork declaring their intent to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board on July 18. The Westlake store will likely vote in an in-person election on Sept. 1. Four other Northeast Ohio locations, and 200 across the United States have voted to form unions  since Dec. 2021.

There are roughly 20 employees at the Westlake location, though the barista said that Starbucks has hired at least four more since partners contacted the NLRB, a tactic the barista suspected was meant to tip the scales in the upcoming vote.

In the meantime, partners are trying to rally community support. This weekend, they held a "community sip," at which they encouraged customers to order drinks under the name "union strong." The barista said another community event, and possibly a rally with other area Starbucks workers, may be in the offing before the vote. These are designed both to raise awareness in the community and keep morale up among the workers, some of whom fear retaliation.

Though the Westlake workers have witnessed "shaky" relationships between workers and management at other area stores that have unionized, the argument for the union is still obvious to many of them.

"The [unionized workers] have support and security in their positions," the barista said, "and they just seem happy and content."

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