Local Starbucks workers vote to unionize | Richmond Free Press

“Get up, get down, Richmond is a union town!”

Chants, cheers and tears of joy filled the Studio Two Three event space on Tuesday afternoon as organizers at five Richmond Starbuck stores watched as their workplaces became the first in the state to unionize.

More than 90 Starbucks employees at the five stores voted in the union process, which began in late March and now allows them to form local units of Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

The vote and count, counted by Cameron Meyers of the National Labor Relations Board and broadcast live from the Baltimore office, was the culmination of months of organizing by store workers to rally support from their colleagues. Those in attendance were already celebrating when the first store voted to unionize, and each store that followed was a welcome validation of their hard work to build solidarity and collaboration among their co-workers.

“Every day I come out and support my co-workers, and it’s nice to feel that they support me too, and that we can do this together,” said J. Fletcher, an organizing employee who works at the Starbucks store in Huguenot. Village shopping center in Bon Air. At this Starbucks location, employees voted 11 to 2 in favor of a union.

“It’s been a long time since I felt this happy with my job,” Mr. Fletcher said.

Base pay at area Starbucks stores is $12 per hour. The organizers are asking for a salary increase, but did not specify the exact amount. That will be left to negotiation now that they have a union, organizers said.

The Starbucks store on Forest Hill Avenue in Cherokee Road was the first store in Virginia to vote to unionize, as those ballots were counted first. The tally there: 17-1 in favor of the union.

Starbucks stores on Midlothian Turnpike and Carmia Way and Westchester Commons in Midlothian voted 22-3 and 13-8 respectively to unionize, while the Willow Lawn shopping center location voted unanimously 19-0 in favor of the union.

Workers began efforts to unionize Richmond stores in February, according to Iman Djehiche, a Midlothian store worker, following a successful vote in Buffalo, NY That prompted other stores across the United States to demand their own union representation, Ms. Djehiche mentioned.

Supported nationally by Starbucks Workers United, workers then rallied to gain support from local stores while facing efforts from corporate leaders to thwart interest in unionization, according to Ms. Djehiche and others. others, including increased management presence, reduced working hours and more.

These actions have worsened the stressful working conditions they face on a daily basis, Ms Djehiche said. She said employees must manage expectations of their managers for fast, efficient and friendly service as they deal with customer abuse and try to maintain safety standards during the pandemic.

These terms, Ms. Djehiche said, show how necessary union representation is and could likely be a motivating factor for those without union representation who are stuck in similar working conditions, not just at Starbucks. but elsewhere.

“It showed how exploited we are by companies for low wages as they make us work more and more,” Ms Djehiche said of the impact of the pandemic on the labor movement. “I hope it inspires others.”

Organizers said the next step will be negotiation and negotiation with local Starbucks executives, a potentially lengthy process that could take months or more. Devin Martin, an organizing employee at the Willow Lawn store, said organizers are now talking with colleagues to come up with a list of benefits and issues they want to address at the start of negotiations.

Better wages, guaranteed benefits and improved safety measures are among the potential changes being sought, many said. Ms Djehiche said the workers were also looking to ensure that any benefits obtained could be renegotiated in the future, as employment conditions could change in the future.

Employees at Starbucks stores in Loudoun and Fairfax in northern Virginia are voting Friday and Saturday on whether to unionize.

Beyond that work, Starbucks organizers plan to celebrate their win and the efforts at other stores at Unity Fest on Sunday, April 24 at The National in downtown Richmond. US Senator Bernie Sanders will be among the special guests.

“We took on a multi-millionaire and we won,” said Forest Hill store employee Katheryn Wiggers. “I think this is going to send a really good message not just to Starbucks but everywhere.”

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