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Milwaukee: First Starbucks in Wisconsin files for union election

By staff

Starbucks workers and supporters rally outside the Oak Creek, WI location.

Oak Creek, WI – On February 17, over 50 people gathered in front of Starbucks in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, for an announcement that the workers at that location filed for a union election. Shortly after, it was announced that an additional Wisconsin Starbucks filed for a union election, this one in the tiny community of Plover. The election filing is one of at least 100 across the country where Starbucks workers demanded a union at their workplace. Except for the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Starbucks workers have worked through it all.

The workers at Starbucks are beset on all sides. While the company offers some fringe benefits – which are rare, such as tuition reimbursement – pay still remains low, working hours are unpredictable, and workers are regularly exposed to contagion, often by obstinate, hostile people refusing to wear masks. While the workers at Starbucks are faced with these threats to their health and safety, Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman emeritus, remains one of the wealthiest people on the planet.

Members of the organizing committee, all young women, spoke before the crowd, with committee member Hannah Fogarty saying, “We are here today because we are standing up for what we deserve. What we are looking for is our safety, both physical and financial,” adding their call for, “improved COVID policies, improved sick pay, and financially also with sick pay and being paid a livable wage. None of us make enough to build a savings account; we can’t afford any accidents.”

The Starbucks workers in Oak Creek were not alone. Leaders from unions across Milwaukee and State Senator Chris Larson stood in solidarity with the Starbucks workers in the arctic cold. AFSCME Local 526 vice-president Jacob Flom cheered on the Starbucks workers with some comments during the rally.

“We are really thrilled to see the Starbucks workers organizing all across the country. This wave is just kicking off and this big upsurge is bringing new life to the labor movement that we really need,” Flom said.

Carlos Ginard, an organizer with Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks workers across the country, said that 85% of the workers at the Oak Creek store had signed union cards. Even with such an overwhelming amount of support, Ginard expects Starbucks to fight organizing efforts like the company has at each of the other 100-plus stores where Workers United has filed for union elections. Workers United continues undaunted. Two Buffalo, New York-area Starbucks locations have won union elections and in Mesa, Arizona, where a judge had previously issued an injunction to temporarily block the counting of ballots, Starbucks Workers United won a union election 25-3.

If successful, the union election at the Starbucks in Oak Creek would be the third worker victory at a Milwaukee-area coffee shop, joining Likewise Coffee and Colectivo Coffee with the Teamsters and IBEW, respectively. A victory in Plover would be a statement that it’s not just bigger cities where workers can organize and win. These two organizing efforts are sure to be the first of many across the state. For a long time it was conventional wisdom of gutless trade union bureaucrats that organizing in the service industry was not possible, but baristas in the Milwaukee area are proving that fortune favors the bold.

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