SEATTLE - Dozens of Seattle Starbucks workers hit the picket line Sunday, in front of one of the coffee giant's largest location, the Seattle Reserve Roastery. The workers say the company refuses to bargain with the union as the members demand better pay and working conditions.
Employees also said Sunday that the company's recent announcement to close six stores in Seattle was very abrupt and left many employees in a lurch. The company announced that 16 stores would close nationwide.
In April, employees voted to certify unionization at the Reserve Roastery in Seattle through the National Labor Relations Board.
"We have already had the election happen to unionize our store and Starbucks has now said they have found flaws in it, so they are trying to say we can’t utilize that we can’t use that as our unionizing, so they are trying to fight it," said Gabriel Merryfield, a Starbucks barista and trainer. "They don’t want to bargain with us."
Barista and shop steward, Mark Maddaloni, says the company is appealing the vote and won't bargain during that process.
He explained some of the company's arguments in the appeal, including that the vote should have taken place in person rather than by mail, so more people had a chance to participate. He argues that the mail-in ballot process was fair.
"In the mail–in, you have 10 days, there is no pressure to vote, and I think that’s really fair to partners," said Maddaloni.
He says the other reason the company listed for the appeal had to do with COVID 19 cases, adding that Starbucks has argued that the conditions surrounding the April vote did not meet the National Labor Relation Board's standards for mail-in ballots.
"They believe that the NLRB is going against their own standards. They believe that the NLRB cited that if the cases are going down, if there is a 14-day trend in the county where the election is happening, if the cases are going down, an in-person vote should be held. The fact of the matter is that the cases were not going down. Starbucks is not being transparent where they are getting that data," said Maddaloni.
We reached out to Starbucks for comment. A spokesperson confirmed that they are waiting to bargain th the union until after the appeal is finished.
"The message is we will no longer wait for Starbucks to listen to us at the table. We are demanding a chance to bargain right now," said Maddaloni.
Starbucks also sent this letter to the collective bargaining unit and the company's partners, dated July 14, 2022, explaining the company's reason for the appeal:
At Starbucks, we believe in fair voting practices that allow all partner votes to be counted and all partner voices to be heard. For these reasons, we intend to appeal an NLRB decision ordering a mail ballot election at our Seattle Roastery. We asked for an in-person vote because the NLRB itself has recognized that mail ballot elections can result in reduced voter participation by as much as 30%.
It is clear that the mail ballot election at the Seattle Roastery resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of the Starbucks Partners there. Only 66% of partners returned ballots, meaning one-third of the eligible Starbucks partners did not participate at all. By comparison, Starbucks New York Roastery which was an in-person election, there was a partner turnout rate of 95%.
The NLRB metric at issue for the Seattle Roastery was whether the 14-day trend in new COVID cases in the county was increasing at the time the NLRB issued their decision. If cases were increasing, a mail ballot election would be justified, but if the case count was stable or decreasing, an in-person election would be required. We presented data to the NLRB clearly demonstrating that the case rate was decreasing at the time the Regional Director issued his decision. This decision clearly contradicts the NLRB’s own standards for in-person elections.
Starbucks has agreed to bargain after every other NLRB election in which a union won and will continue to negotiate in good faith wherever we are required to, but Starbucks partners are entitled to participate in an election that conforms to requirements that the NLRB itself has established.
Letter to Seattle Bargaining Committee
Seattle Roastery Bargaining Committee,
Thank you for your June 30 letter requesting to meet and engage in negotiations on behalf of Starbucks partners at the Seattle Roastery. Unfortunately, the Seattle Roastery election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was contrary to the NLRB’s own standards that govern whether there should be an "in-person" election rather than "mail ballot" election. This problem is significant for two reasons.
First, as Starbucks indicated prior to the Seattle Roastery election, the declining 14-day trend in local COVID numbers warranted having an "in-person" election, and not a "mail ballot" election, based on the standards established in an NLRB decision called Aspirus Keweenaw, 370 NLRB No. 45 (Nov. 9, 2020).
Second, having a "mail ballot" rather than "in-person" election – contrary to the NLRB Aspirus Keweenaw standards – improperly reduced the number of Starbucks Partners who participated in the Seattle Roastery election. The NLRB has recognized that mail ballot elections can reduce voter participation by as much as 30%. It is clear that by holding a "mail ballot" election at the Seattle Roastery resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of the Starbucks Partners there. Only 69 of 104 partners returned ballots – a turnout rate of 66% – which meant one-third of the eligible Starbucks partners did not participate at all. By comparison, at the Starbucks New York Roastery, the NLRB conducted an "in-person" election on April 1, and 82 out of 86 eligible voters cast ballots – a turnout rate of 95%.
Under federal labor law, an improperly conducted NLRB election decision can be appealed only if the employer refuses to bargain, which then produces an NLRB decision that permits a federal court of appeals to rule on the election-related problems. This process is called "testing certification."
Starbucks has agreed to bargain following every other NLRB election, held to date, in which a union won. However, the Seattle Roastery election did not adhere to the process mandated by the NLRB itself, and this greatly reduced participation by one-third of the Starbucks partners who did not even cast votes. We intend to appeal the NLRB decision to conduct a mail-ballot election at the Seattle Roastery, and we refuse your demand to bargain to permit this election issue to be appealed. Starbucks will negotiate in good faith wherever the Company is required to engage in bargaining, but Starbucks partners are entitled to participate in an election that conforms to requirements that the NLRB itself has established.