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Starbucks workers push to unionize in Boston area after N.Y. win

Signage is displayed outside a Starbucks coffee shop in Boston.Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg/Bloomberg

Starbucks Corp. employees are petitioning to unionize two Massachusetts coffee shops, just days after a landmark New York vote created the sole labor foothold among the chain’s thousands of corporate-run U.S. stores.

In filings with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, workers at locations in Boston and nearby Brookline requested votes on joining Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The same union last week prevailed in initial vote-counting at one of three stores in the Buffalo region where it had petitioned in August for elections. The group fell short at a second, while the third result hinges on the outcome of voter-eligibility disputes. Workers United has also filed for votes at three other New York sites and one in Arizona.


The filings in Massachusetts underscore how quickly change may be coming for Starbucks, which has long resisted organizing efforts. Pro-union employees in Buffalo say they’ve heard from a slew of supportive coworkers around the country. The union’s staying power will depend in large part on its ability to actually secure a collective bargaining agreement with Starbucks, which is no easy task. While federal law requires that a company negotiate “in good faith” once a union is certified to have won an election, it doesn’t force it to make major concessions.

Richard Bensinger, the former AFL-CIO organizing director spearheading the Starbucks campaign for Workers United, said that the group’s primary focus is winning a contract in New York. Still, he said Monday, “if anyone wants help organizing, we’re going to give it to them.”

Starbucks didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry.

Employees at the Boston store said they first reached out to the union in late October. On Dec. 10, the day after ballots were counted in Buffalo, they started discreetly circulating their own union cards and signed up a majority of employees within a day.


“We think that Starbucks is a great company to work for, but we also believe that we can make it better if we’re able to amplify the voices of all the partners,” employee Kylah Clay said Monday.