National Labor Board: Buffalo Starbucks’ workers can form union by store

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) — Workers at three Starbucks stores in the Buffalo area want to organize a union and a federal labor relations board director Thursday gave them the go-ahead they needed to move forward with the effort.

Starbucks, a Seattle-based company with more than 8,000 stores in North America including 20 in the Buffalo market, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to require the workers to organize with the entire market of roughly 450 employees, rather than by store.

“With this decision, we will now have the ability to win the first unionized Starbucks in the U.S., ensuring our right to organize,” Starbucks Workers United, the group of pro-union workers in Buffalo, tweeted Thursday afternoon.

Starbucks argued that the union that is helping Buffalo workers organize, Workers United Upstate NY, “cherrypicked” three random stores based on the “extent of organizing,” which is prohibited by law.

After six days of testimony and arguments by videoconference, the NLRB ruled that it has long held that forming a union at a single facility is “presumptively appropriate unless it has been so effectively merged or is so functionally integrated with other facilities that it has lost its separate identity.”

Starbucks closes two Buffalo locations pushing to unionize

“Here, Starbucks has failed to carry its burden that the unit must consist, at a minimum, of the 20 stores in the Buffalo market,” the NLRB decision stated.

While Starbucks does operate a “highly centralized retail chain operation,” the labor board said it has long recognized that chainwide uniformity is not a sufficient reason in itself to deny workers’ rights to organize as group in one store.

“Therefore, while this evidence of centralized operations is noted, such a circumstance is not considered a primary factor in the consideration of single-store units in this industry,” the NLRB ruled.

In a prepared statement, Starbucks said it is reviewing the ruling and evaluating options, but its success is built on how “we partner together and lift each other up, always with Our Mission and Values at our core.” 

“Our storied success has come from our working directly together as partners, without a third party between us.  We remain focused on supporting our partners as well as maintaining open, transparent and direct conversations throughout the process,” Starbucks said.

The three stores that filed to organize a union are #7381 at 933 Elmwood Ave., store #59087 at 5120 Camp Road in Hamburg and store #23917 at 4255 Genesee St. in Cheektowaga.

Ballots will be sent to voters at 5 p.m. on Nov. 10 and must be returned to the regional labor office by Dec. 8, 2021.

The ballot count will occur at 1 p.m. on Dec. 9.

Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.

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