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Unionization push at Canadian Starbucks gaining steam but facing similar barriers to U.S. efforts

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Unionization among Starbucks workers in Canada is starting to gain momentum, organizers say, but like U.S. workers, workers face barriers and suspected anti-union activity by coffee giant .

More than a year before the recent wave of Starbucks unionization in the United States began, a store in Victoria unionized with the National Steelworkers in August 2020, bringing attention to workers across the country.

There are currently six unions in BC and Alberta, with more under construction, according to organizers.

“I think the pandemic has caused people to look at their lives, their jobs and their communities a little differently,” said Scott Raney, USW’s Director of Western Canada.

Since late last year, more than 250 stores south of the border have voted to join the union, according to the National Labor Relations Commission.

But a successful accreditation vote is just one step in organizing. Workers do not start paying dues until a contract is negotiated. He also reported that contract negotiations have begun with some U.S. stores, but no agreement has been reached, the Associated Press reports.

Last Thursday, employees at more than 100 US stores went on strike for a day to protest working conditions.

This makes the Victoria store the only location in North America that has a labor agreement with the company.

In some cases, Lunny said, stores in the same area are organized together as a single bargaining unit. Two of his stores, in Surrey and Langley, British Columbia, were successfully accredited as one bargaining unit. In Lethbridge, Alabama, five stores failed the certification vote.

Demonstrators protest outside a closed Starbucks store in Seattle this summer. Hundreds of coffee shops in the United States have faced union protests in recent months. (David Ryder/Bloomberg)

Service workers have become more interested in organizing over the pandemic, especially as inflation has risen in recent months, Ranny said.

In deciding to join the union, workers in Victoria wanted more support for customer harassment and clearer communication about COVID-19 practices, said shift supervisor and union representative Sarah Broad. said.

Broad said he’s noticed a big change, with health and safety “10-fold” improved since the deal was ratified.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Earlier this year, Starbucks announced it would give workers in Canada and other jurisdictions pay raises and other improvements. However, Mr Broad said a letter was posted in the back room of Victoria’s store explaining that he would not receive a raise due to his contract with the union.

Starbucks spokeswoman Carly Sappa said in an email that this is because the contract for the Victoria store includes an annual wage hike.

USW filed a labor complaint on behalf of the Victoria store. This is one of the labor complaints filed by the union on behalf of Starbucks stores, Mr Lunny said. One of which he accused the company of chastising the Lethbridge union organizers, and continues to do so.

Starbucks employees in a Buffalo location react when the ballot tallies are announced in the location’s union ballot. (Joshua Bessex/Associated Press)

U.S. workers are also facing allegations of anti-union activity, with the Labor Relations Board asking federal courts to intervene in a case in which Starbucks fired a union organizer.

Sappa said Starbucks has never reprimanded an employee for engaging in legal union activity in the United States or Canada.

The Associated Press reported in May that the pay increases announced in May were also implemented in the United States, except for those who voted to form a union or petitioned for union elections to be held.

In a statement posted on Starbucks’ website,, launched in February, the company said U.S. labor law has implications for wages and benefits during the unionization process and when a store joins. said it limits the improvements that can be made to it, but recent improvements are likely to be negotiated at the negotiating table.

Watch | US Starbucks Workers Vote for Unions:

Union efforts come to Starbucks and food service workers

Starbucks is a major food service company that has recently expanded its organizing efforts across Canada.

David J. Dory, a professor of labor law at the University of York, said Starbucks’ position has a legal basis under U.S. labor law, but the labor board has accused the company of unlawful retaliation for forming a union. He said he might look into it.

USW’s Lanny believes Starbucks has always had the ability to pay higher wages and invest more in health and safety, but “until the threat of organizing arises, they actually shy away from it.” could not.

“I think (a raise) is to prevent unionization.”

Suppa said the company continues to invest in wages, benefits, policies, safety and training, and Starbucks does more for its employees by working side by side rather than across the bargaining table. He said he believes it can be done.

On its Canadian version of the information website, which launched in July, the company urged workers to conduct research before signing union cards, and if verified, workers would no longer be able to raise concerns directly with the company. said.

Starbucks employees in central Canada are also interested in unionizing, but high turnover is a barrier to the movement’s success, said Darlene Jalbert, organizing coordinator for Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Stated.

According to economist and labor expert Jim Stanford, B.C. and some other jurisdictions make verification easier because they have “one-step” verification where the majority of signatures count as verification. be.

In Alberta and Ontario, signing is just the first step. A vote to certify could take days, weeks or even months later, he said.

Sectors are notoriously difficult to organize

Starbucks is a mixture of corporate-operated locations and licensed locations such as grocery stores. There are approximately 1,000 business locations in Canada and approximately 500 licensed locations where the employer is a licensing company rather than Starbucks.

Getting organized in the hospitality industry is hard, and staying organized is hard, said Stanford. Part of the reason, he said, is not just turnover, but also the often fragmented nature of companies like Starbucks, including a mix of company-operated and licensed stores.

The Victoria store was the only union-affiliated store in Canada at the time it was certified, but there have been several union-affiliated Starbucks stores in the past.

Stanford said Starbucks employees have received a lot of attention for their efforts, but workers in all industries are turning to unions in the wake of the pandemic.

Broad said he believes the move in the U.S. has helped boost interest in Canada.

“I really want it to spread to all states, and I hope it becomes more standard.”

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