Activists target local Starbucks for union drive

Starbucks’ brand as a proudly progressive company continues to take a beating among those who know the high-priced coffee corporation best — its employees. The organizing drive that led to the first labor union in the company’s 51-year history in December now numbers more than 70 stores nationwide, whose workers have filed for an election.

That includes two Starbucks stores on organizers’ menus in the Twin Cities, according to the Pioneer Press.

A majority of baristas at two Starbucks coffee shops in St. Paul and Minneapolis have signed union authorization cards, making them the first in the state to officially join the “Starbucks Workers United” labor drive and setting the stage for likely unionization, according to organizers.

A spokesman for the Chicago and Midwest Joint Board of Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, said union recognition demands were emailed to Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Kevin Johnson and local management early Friday. The two locations are at 300 Snelling Ave. South in St. Paul, near Macalester College, and 4712 Cedar Ave. in Minneapolis.

Twin Cities baristas’ drive to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was featured in a glowing piece carried in the Park Avenue-based online newsletter Mic.

“It’s a job that is hard, but I love doing it,” 25-year-old Kasey Copeland, a barista at a Starbucks in Minneapolis, tells Mic. “With better wages, I wouldn’t have to struggle as hard. I wouldn’t have to work quite as many hours, and I feel like that would help me give my best even more so when I was there. I feel like we can make Starbucks better.”

This is a major moment for the 220,000 workers in Starbucks locations across the U.S. Lola Rubens, a 20-year-old barista in St. Paul, Minnesota, tells Mic that it comes as no surprise young people are at the helm. “There’s this sense that the old systems that previous generations have adhered to aren’t necessarily going to work for us and that we have to kind of pave our own way. And while unions are nothing new, they are definitely something that has fallen out of favor within the last generation.”

But, Rubens says, unions can bring workers “a step closer to equality in the workplace, which ultimately is the goal of a lot of this movement.”

Minneapolis barista Copeland currently earns $16.25 plus tips, presumably. Some employees in California Starbucks stores already earn some $20 an hour. But they told Mic they deserve much more.

Joe Thompson, who works at a Starbucks location in Santa Cruz, California, there is no reason workers shouldn’t earn a living wage — especially given that Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson took home more than $20 million last year, which was a 39% bump from his 2020 compensation.

Thompson, who’s in their first year of school at University of California at Santa Cruz, relies on wages from Starbucks to cover living expenses. On average, a living wage in California for a single person without children would be $18.66 an hour, or as high as $28.00 in cities like San Francisco. Thompson is currently making $20.67.

Starbucks adamantly opposes union representation in its 9,000 locations worldwide. But there’s nothing even the most progressive manager can do once organizers collect the signatures of more than 30 percent of employees.

“We respect our partners’ right to organize,” Borges, the Starbucks spokesperson, tells Mic. “We don’t believe a union is necessary, but we understand their point of view. In the instance that they file petitions, we’re going to respect the process.”

It’s not yet clear the extent to which unionization and the costs that go with it will increase Starbucks’ already premium prices. But customers of two Twin Cities outlets may be about to find out.