Workers at the Starbucks store on the corner of North Broadway and West Devon Avenue near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus (LSC) are working to organize a labor union which would allow them to bargain for improved pay and conditions.
With the help of Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the workers have filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold an election where employees will decide whether or not to form a union.
Over 220 Starbucks locations have voted to unionize over the past year, including six stores in Chicago. The coffee giant has opposed the nationwide unionization effort and workers at Chicago area stores have alleged the company has violated federal labor laws and targeted union organizers, WTTW Chicago reported.
Ryan Kiefer, a shift supervisor and one of the union organizers at the Broadway and Devon location, said the effort to unionize started from inside the store and later garnered assistance from SBWU.
“This is very much a barista-led effort,” Kiefer, who has worked at Starbucks for eight years, said. “People have been organizing from inside the stores and were really trying to improve things from inside, not outside. Unions are people and we are those people.”
A spokesperson for Starbucks pushed back on the notion that the company has engaged in anti-union practices and said in a statement that the company respects their employees’ legal right to organize although they do not support the effort.
“From the beginning, we’ve maintained our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” the spokesperson told The Phoenix. “As we have said throughout, we will respect the process and will bargain in good faith with the stores that vote for union representation. We hope that the union does the same.”
Organizers held a “Sip-In” Aug. 2 which Kiefer explained was an opportunity for members of the community to come and express their support for a possible union.
Kiefer said what motivated him to get involved with a union was the opportunity to bargain collectively and negotiate with Starbucks on issues such as pay, benefits and how workers are treated.
“I think the biggest and most important thing is making sure we have a seat at the table.” Kiefer said. “Starbucks has for years at all of their board meetings had an empty seat which is supposed to represent the partners, which is what they call their employees. And honestly for the longest time I thought why is that seat empty?”
The store is now in its election phase and results are expected to be released in the coming weeks. Kiefer said the nationwide expansion of SBWU has been very encouraging and organizers have been in contact with workers all around the country.
“It’s been this really exciting thing that we’ve been working together to demonstrate to Starbucks that we are organized and we are passionate about improving our conditions and we will not back down,” he said.