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Starbucks workers trying to form union in Rhode Island

Workers at the coffee chain’s location on Pace Boulevard in Warwick on Wednesday announced their intention to unionize. It’s the first store in Rhode Island to petition for unionization.

A sign bearing the corporate logo hangs in the window of a Starbucks in southeast Denver.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE – The Starbucks unionization drive has reached Rhode Island.

Workers at the coffee chain’s location on Pace Boulevard in Warwick on Wednesday announced their intention to unionize. It’s the first store in Rhode Island to petition for unionization.

“A democratic workplace is right for everyone,” Cassie Burke, a barista at the Warwick location who was involved in the organization effort, said in an interview. “It’s something everyone should have and feel they have the right to fight for.”

Burke said the local organizers needed 30 percent of workers there to sign cards expressing support for a union, but were able to quickly get more than half of the workers to do so. Now, Starbucks could choose to voluntarily recognize the union, although that almost certainly won’t happen. If Starbucks doesn’t voluntarily recognize the union, a vote among workers governed by the National Labor Relations Board would take place. If a majority of workers who vote say yes, the NLRB will certify the union. If they vote no, the union won’t be formed.

The unionization drive in Warwick is part of a national effort at Starbucks locations around the country. The first union at a corporate Starbucks started in Buffalo, N.Y., in December 2021. Nine more stores have followed, according to Starbucks Workers United. Starbucks Workers United is part of Workers United, which is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The vote at an 11th store wasn’t successful for the union, but Starbucks Workers United says that’s under review by the NLRB.

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More votes are coming: According to Starbucks Workers United, workers at more than 180 stores around the country have filed petitions to unionize.

The location in Warwick is now among them.

Burke said workers like their benefits and like the managers they have now. She likes working there, and wouldn’t be doing this if she didn’t. But workers have had bad managers in the past, Burke said. And they’ve looked on with alarm at what they see as “union-busting” tactics in other parts of the country. She says a union will help protect the good things they have, while fixing some of the problems they see.

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“One of the scariest things about having all these benefits is knowing they can be taken away,” Burke said. “With a union, you protect those benefits.”

Burke pointed to a recent successful Amazon union drive in New York as evidence of a labor movement that’s gaining momentum.

According to Burke, there’s a narrative within the company that at Starbucks board meetings, two seats are left empty. One is for the customer. One is for the workers.

“A large part of what a union brings us is to make that true,” Burke said. “Not a symbolic gesture, but an actual reality.”

Starbucks said in a statement relayed by a spokesperson Wednesday: “We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores, as we always do across the country. 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.”


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.