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More and more Starbucks stores are voting to unionize

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Unionizing at Starbucks has been on a roll lately but not today. After four stores voted unanimously to unionize this week alone, a store in Northern Virginia voted no in a close tally.

NPR's Andrea Hsu has been following the union campaign, and she joins us now. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Hi, Daniel.

ESTRIN: Where exactly are you?

HSU: I'm in Springfield, Va. It's less than an hour outside D.C. I'm actually in the parking lot of the store that just voted. It's one of a handful of stores in this area that have petitioned for a union and the first one to vote. It was an in-person vote over two days, and the final tally was 10-8 against the union.

And, you know, I've spent some time with the workers here, and this was a surprise to them. They went into this vote pretty confident they were going to win this election. A bunch of employees had gathered right here in the parking lot, and they expected to go from here to a celebration.

Instead, after the tally was announced, they milled about the parking lot, consoling each other with hugs. And now everyone's cleared out. Galen Berg, a shift supervisor who led the union campaign at this store, thinks what happened is some workers changed their minds about the union after hearing warnings from the company over what could happen if they unionized.

GALEN BERG: We weren't going to be able to get raises in the next coming months. We were not going to be able to work at other stores. And definitely our partners believe that; so yeah, really disappointed, incredibly disappointed.

ESTRIN: But there have been other wins for the union this week, right?

HSU: Yeah. Two stores in the Boston area on Monday and then yesterday, one in Pittsburgh and one in Eugene, Ore., and those were all unanimous votes for the union. Now, we should note, these are small elections. There's only, you know, 20 or 37 employees per store. And in a lot of these elections, half or fewer than half actually vote. So to win, the union just needs a majority of ballots cast to be yes votes.

In fact, this low turnout is something that Howard Schultz, the interim CEO at Starbucks right now, is reported to have noted. He'd like to see more employees voting. Here in Springfield, actually, all 19 workers at this store did vote. One of the ballots was voided. And again, the vote was 10-8 against the union. This is the first time Starbucks workers have voted against a union since December when one of the three stores in Buffalo voted no.

ESTRIN: OK. Now, you mentioned the interim CEO, Howard Schultz. What else has he had to say about this union campaign?

HSU: Well, he clearly doesn't like it. His position at Starbucks through the many decades that he has led the company has been Starbucks doesn't need a union because it's already a great place to work. The benefits are generous - health care and retirement, stock options and free college tuition for, you know, part-time and full-time workers. And in his first couple of weeks back as CEO, he has made clear that his feelings towards unions haven't changed.

In a memo to employees, he warned that some union organizers, you know, store employees, are intentionally and aggressively sowing divisions within the company by, in his words, attempting to sell a very different view of what Starbucks should be. He is holding what Starbucks is calling collaboration sessions where he's meeting with store employees, hearing their concerns. And so these are also venues for him to share his thoughts.

ESTRIN: Real quick, Andrea, for the stores that have voted to unionize, what is next?

HSU: Well, collective bargaining, negotiating a contract with Starbucks, and that could be harder than winning the election. The process has begun in Buffalo in the first stores to unionize, and there are more elections to come. As of today, about 220 stores have petitioned for votes, and there are more vote counts next week. And remember, there have also been other notable wins for Labor, the biggest one being a massive Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, which voted to unionize a couple weeks ago.

ESTRIN: OK.

HSU: More than 8,000 workers are now part of the upstart Amazon Labor Union.

ESTRIN: Thank you.

HSU: And a second Amazon warehouse is set to vote at the end of this month.

ESTRIN: NPR's Andrea Hsu, thanks.

HSU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.