Updated Jun 17, 2022 - News

Coffee's labor movement is brewing

Illustration of latte with a foam fist in the middle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The national Starbucks unionization effort hasn't squarely hit Detroit, but labor leaders see the city as fertile ground for organizing baristas.

Why it matters: Coffee shop workers are at the forefront of a growing movement sparked by pandemic working conditions, a tight labor market and a pro-union White House.

  • About 250 Starbucks stores have filed union election petitions since last August, driving a 57% surge in such filings nationwide.
  • "We’re seeing a whole generation deciding that they don’t want to just quit and move on, they want to actually change conditions for the better," Diana Hussein, spokesperson for a local union working with baristas, UNITE HERE, tells Axios in a statement.

State of play: Much of the union action in Michigan is at Starbucks stores in Ann Arbor and a few other cities.

  • Workers at 13 Starbucks in Michigan have filed to form a union, according to the National Labor Relations Board, and so far workers at nine shops have approved representation, according to Michigan Radio.
  • No petitions for representation have been filed this year for any Detroit Starbucks.

Zoom in: Baristas from Great Lakes Coffee have been on strike since February. Owners have closed the popular Woodward Avenue location, arguing the demands are unsustainable.

  • Striking Great Lakes workers are pushing for a contract and have been picketing outside the company's location at the Meijer Rivertown Market on East Jefferson.

What they're saying: "There is going to be more organization within the coffee industry locally here in the next year," Lex Blom, an employee on strike from Great Lakes, tells Axios.

What's next: Workers will have to transition their organizing success into negotiating contracts, though going toe-to-toe with a massive company likely will be challenging.

  • These efforts are "ground-up," meaning they aren't coming from union leadership, and many of the voices are young, women and/or people of color, Marick Masters, a Wayne State University professor who focuses on business and labor, tells Axios. "The people that are in there have a sense of social justice and consciousness."
Great Lakes Coffee workers on strike in Detroit.
Great Lakes Coffee workers on strike. Photo courtesy of UNITE HERE

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