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21 Starbucks stores see petitions for union elections in the same day


Baristas at another 21 Starbucks stores filed petitions for union elections today. That's the most in one day since the union campaign got going more than 2 1/2 years ago. NPR's Andrea Hsu reports.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: At Starbucks store No. 24964 in Little Rock, Ark., there was not originally a whole lot of interest in organizing a union. A big reason, says Lyra Jackson, was that employees at nonunion stores were getting raises and new benefits, part of Starbucks' response to the organizing campaign.

LYRA JACKSON: There was definitely a little bit of an attitude of, well, the union's already making things better for us without us having to do anything. Maybe we can just sit here and let the union fight the fight, and we're going to get the benefits anyway.

HSU: Jackson says that changed in recent months, as employees have grappled with unpredictable hours, and some even lost benefits because they were not working enough hours. Now, Starbucks says this can happen, but that it has an online system that workers can use to pick up additional hours.

And then last month came a snowstorm. Schools in Little Rock were closed, but Starbucks workers were expected to get to work. And some who couldn't received disciplinary notices, says Jackson, who notes the store was short staffed, but hardly anyone was going out for coffee.

JACKSON: (Laughter) I remember being there, and it being a day that we focused on cleaning a lot of stuff because we barely had any customers.

HSU: Jackson says if workers had a union, they could fight for changes to the attendance policies and for guaranteed minimum hours. But to date, contract talks at the nearly 400 unionized Starbucks stores have stalled. Starbucks and the union blame each other for the lack of progress. Alex Hertel-Fernandez of Columbia University says the lack of a contract is a real impediment for the union effort, especially in a high turnover sector like Starbucks.

ALEX HERTEL-FERNANDEZ: The longer that employers drag this out and the more they use turnover as a strategy to get those union-friendly workers out of the store and with new workers in the store, the more they can damp down on the momentum that the unions have enjoyed.

HSU: Now, Starbucks denies it has any kind of anti-union playbook. In a statement, the company said it respects the rights of its employees to organize and that it aims to ensure that its employees' voices are heard. Employees at the 21 new stores that are trying to organize will soon test that. In dozens of cases involving other stores, federal labor judges have found Starbucks unlawfully interfered with union organizing. Starbucks is appealing those findings.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.