Since KLCC first reported on a South Eugene Starbucks petitioning to form a union last month, five more stores in Eugene have joined the effort, bringing the current total to six.
Outside the Starbucks on West 7th, shift supervisor Gabby Brouillette said the time has come for workers everywhere to demand better wages and conditions.
“We’re the backbone of this country,” Brouillette told KLCC. “And we’re tired and we deserve more than we’re getting. And it’s not only big for Starbucks, it’s big for the entire country.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the “great resignation” with workers quitting their jobs and pursuing work with more pay, benefits, and protection, Brouillette said there’s been an impetus for employees to organize and boost their voices.
“29th (Willamette) finally petitioning really inspired us to go ahead and join the movement,” she added, noting there has been a growing interest in joining an organized labor movement for some time among her coworkers. Brouillette said while she feels there’s been some pushback from the corporate side of Starbucks, she believes it will ease up and in time they’ll be able to better negotiate for themselves.
“This is a giant labor movement we’re joining right now, it’s crazy.”
About five dozen Starbucks stores across the U.S. have petitioned to begin unions, following the lead of a Buffalo, NY, store. The South Eugene Starbucks on Willamette Street is the first in Oregon to initiate the process, and recently concluded a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board on the matter.
The Franklin Boulevard Starbucks in the University district has also opted to unionize as of late last week. Baristas Ian Meagher and Jessica Jaszewski told KLCC that it’s important that as “partners” (the term Starbucks uses for its employees) that they begin to feel more a part of what happens within the company.
“When we saw what was happening in Buffalo, it was encouraging and exciting, and we went, “Oh, they could do it, we can do it too!” said Jaszewski.
Jaszewski said a lot of decisions that affect workers are made without consulting them. So she’s hoping eventually for a bigger seat at the table when it comes to wages and conditions.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, Starbucks was giving us hazard pay,” said Jaszewski. “They were paying us better wages because we were working in unsafe conditions. Now the conditions haven’t changed, but the pay has gone back to our regular rate of pay. That’s obviously something we want to change because we’ve seen that Starbucks can provide for us.”
“Part of why so many partners around the country are interested in unionizing is just so that they have a more equal voice,” added Meagher. “So that there’s more democracy in our workplace.”
Meagher says sometimes the word “union” was thrown around jokingly for a few years among his coworkers, but in light of the growing number of Starbucks stores choosing to file petitions, it’s been taken more seriously as a way to improve conditions.
Other Eugene Starbucks stores at Delta, Oakway, and the EMU at the University of Oregon have also petitioned.
Meanwhile, the national labor group, Workers United, has filed charges with the NLRB against the Starbucks coffee chain. The union group alleged Starbucks is waging an unfair labor campaign that utilizes practices of “interference, intimidation, and coercion” to discourage the Eugene workers’ attempts to unionize.
Quentin Piccolo works for the South Eugene store on Willamette. He said the presence of corporate personnel has increased since they went public with their intent, and work protocols — such as dress codes — have become more stringent.
“And this is right in line with what we’ve been expecting them to do,” said Piccolo. “And ultimately, we can take this. We are willing to fight the fight. But it just doesn’t feel fair to make them think we’re okay with it. So we want to put it out there, as a show of solidarity with all our partners, that we’re not going to let them coerce us into being scared of having an election.”
A Starbucks representative told KLCC that the presence of regional managers and other administrators is to address questions raised over what unionization could mean.
“We have respect for the (Workers United) union’s right to share information and their perspective with our partners,” they continued. “We hope they respect our right to do same.”
The representative added that if Eugene workers maintain their current working status with Starbucks, that’s great. But if they approve forming a union, the company will commit to bargaining “in good faith.”