Updated May 24, 2022 - News

Twin Cities Starbucks workers join national labor push

Illustration of the Starbucks siren holding up a fist.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Baristas at a fourth Twin Cities Starbucks store will vote on whether to form a union beginning Tuesday.

What's happening: The Minneapolis shop at Lyndale and 54th is among at least six Minnesota locations that have joined a growing national push to unionize employees at the ubiquitous coffee chain.

  • Workers prevailed at two locations — 300 Snelling Avenue in St. Paul and 47th and Cedar in Minneapolis — in recent months. Ballots at a third drive at a St. Anthony store will be counted June 6.

The big picture: The strong economy, combined with a pro-union White House and lingering pandemic concerns, are fueling a new labor movement across the U.S.

  • Workers at Amazon, Trader Joe's and, here in Minnesota, smaller outfits such as Peace Coffee have signed on to seek — and in some cases, win — union representation.

Driving the drives: Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist and professor at the University of Minnesota, told Axios that conditions for forming a union are more favorable than they have been in decades.

  • "Workers are in the driver's seat in the labor market right now," he said, citing job security as an incentive to seek better pay and conditions through bargaining power.

Zoom in: Ethan Tinklenberg, who works at the now-unionized Cedar store, said employees wanted better insurance, COVID precautions, a fix to the congested drive-thru and pay of at least $20 an hour.

  • "I want to come into work and know that I'm contributing, and feel that in my wallet as well," he told Axios. "I want to feel like I'm a part of this place rather than like I'm being used."

The other side: A Starbucks spokesperson defended the company's benefits and COVID policies in a statement to Axios and pointed to the recent announcement of increased wages and benefits for staff at non-unionized locations.

  • "From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

What's next: The National Labor Relations Board will mail ballots to eligible workers at the shop off Lyndale Tuesday. Results will be tallied June 14.

  • A union vote for employees at the Mall of America Starbucks is set to begin June 3, with an Eden Prairie location following suit later that month.

What to watch: Sojourner said successful drives both locally and nationally are likely to have a ripple effect, motivating more workers to seek to form unions of their own.

  • "It changes their beliefs about what's possible and what's likely to be successful," he said. "They realize that they can influence that and throw their weight behind this effort to, from their perspective, improve jobs."
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