Starbucks union rally visual

Starbucks workers rally and march in Seattle WA

Via Wikimedia Commons

Elliot Stoller

Starbucks unions are popping up more and more ever since the first one that took place in Buffalo, New York in August 2021. Starbucks partners across the country are fed up with waiting for change. Many have taken matters into their own hands by forming Starbucks Workers United which is a collection of Starbucks partners across the United States who are organizing their workplaces. 

There are many core issues that need to be addressed and fixed and, as a former Starbucks partner, I believe unionization is the only way to do so.

One issue for not only Starbucks, but other food service companies out there is staffing shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a lot of impact on this. A current Starbucks barista, who asked to remain anonymous for employment reasons, commented on this issue. 

“Labor is channeled through previous year sales, but due to the pandemic, they’re not going to match up,” they said. “Workers are getting less hours, but yet stores remain understaffed.” 

I feel like this is one of the biggest things Starbucks should be prioritizing. Their business is always expanding and growing, and staffing plays an important role in that.

The company needs to be able to attend to their employees needs, such as providing a healthy work environment and better pay. Starbucks also needs to offer sustainable jobs and reward employees for their hard work if it wants them to stay and enjoy working there. 

Another issue is that Starbucks demands top of the line service while simultaneously expecting super unrealistic drive thru times. Most stores require 50 seconds or less drive-through time. It’s unreasonable to expect baristas to have both fast hand-out times while providing the best customer service. Although it’s well known that Starbucks has a fast-paced environment, these types of expectations make employees feel burnt out and exhausted. It’s impossible to manage and keep up with.

Personally, I had days where I just wished I could go home because there was so much going on and I wasn’t enjoying my shift. The intense and stressful work environment needs to be changed. 

Essentially, the major issue that drives the unionization of stores is that employees don’t really feel like “partners,” Starbucks’ word for their workers. They don’t feel like they matter to the company. Employees feel separated from corporate; they now want a voice and want to feel like they’re getting a say.

This is because Starbucks partners are left to struggle with their own problems in their varying stores. In my own store, I saw a lot of issues that we were forced to deal with ourselves. For example, many things have broken down in our store. Our receipt machines, our espresso bars, and even our monitors where we take orders. These are the kinds of issues that take too long to solve and the individual stores are left to do it themselves. Corporate likes to act like they care about these kinds of issues, but ultimately it’s up to the partners to fix the problems themselves.

“Starbucks is very slow when taking care of its partners. So many different kinds of problems get reported that take months to resolve,” said Kaleb Gibbs, a former partner. “Corporate ultimately decides the severity of problems that are reported.” 

Starbucks is trying to shut down unions. They’re firing or trying to fire union workers with any sort of petty excuse they can find. An example of this is from a shift supervisor from a Starbucks in New York. She was fired for excessive write-ups for being less than five minutes late to her shifts. The company should listen to their employees and start working on change instead of trying to shut them down unfairly. 

Not only would change be good for partners, but it would also be beneficial for the company. According to Forbes, there is evidence that environmental, social and governance investors are more willing to invest if the company promotes and follows through with positive factors.

I want to clearly state that I am not anti-Starbucks. Just like the unions, I want Starbucks to continue to prosper and grow. I just want them to make some changes to better suit their partners. 

“Starbucks’ problem isn’t how it wants to treat its partners, it's the time through which they do it,” Gibbs said. “ They’re committed to getting there. It’s just taken too long.” 

Because it’s been put off for so long, I believe stores across the nation should continue to join Starbucks Workers United and make a voice for themselves.

As the anonymous current barista also said, “Creating a union isn’t to go against the company, it’s to make the company better. A union would help make partners feel more a part of the company.” 

That’s exactly the reason why all unions are created. I hope Starbucks listens to its partners and really takes the time to make change happen quickly and efficiently before it's too late.