Ande Hernandez has worked for Starbucks on and off since she first trained as a barista at the age of 16. For the past seven years, she’s been a familiar face to customers at the bustling La Quinta location at Highway 111 and Jefferson Street, near the Costco and Residence Inn.
“I loved the company Starbucks was,” she said. “They truly seemed to represent their morals at the time—what it meant to care about your employees, and also caring about the Earth.”
But the pandemic’s pressure on service workers didn’t spare Hernandez and her colleagues. Hernandez said her team became frustrated with hours being cut, low pay and high turnover—so earlier this week, Hernandez and many of her colleagues said they want to join the hundreds of Starbucks shops across the country that have taken steps to form a union.
“We deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity at work,” Hernandez and her fellow La Quinta organizers wrote in a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz this week. “We know through the union we will be able to have a livable wage, dictation over our workspace layout, a better structured schedule with predictable hours, and accountability for everyone, from baristas to upper management.”
Hernandez said 21 employees—or partners, in Starbucks lingo—have signed union authorization cards. That marks the first step toward a vote to form a union under the rules of the National Labor Relations Board, and represents half the current staff, Hernandez said.
A vote has not yet been scheduled, Hernandez said.
Their announcement was shared widely online on April 11 when it was tweeted by Starbucks Workers United, a collective of workers who organized in the Buffalo, N.Y., area in December and became the first to organize one of the coffee chain’s stores since the 1980s.
Hernandez said the local committee has connected with those from other areas to learn about the process and what’s involved. While each store’s situation is unique, the concerns of the La Quinta crew echo those in hundreds of other Starbucks locations that are unionizing, in places from Boston and Los Angeles: Employees aren’t paid enough to meet expectations to provide the “Starbucks experience” amid staffing issues and workplace conditions.
Hernandez said these efforts show that she and others are committed to Starbucks and want to see improvement.
“Being critical of something doesn’t mean you hate it and doesn’t mean you don’t love it,” she said. “You want to be part of the change.”
A Starbucks spokesperson the Independent that the company respects partners’ right to organize and will bargain in good faith, as executive Rossann Williams said in a letter to employees back in December following the Buffalo unionization effort.
Starbucks also plans to respond by adding roughly $1 billion in incremental investments in annual wages and benefits over two years. That includes 5% or 10% raises for some long-serving employees. By the summer, the company anticipates an average wage of $17 per hour nationwide, and $15 to $23 across the country.
“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores, as we always do across the country,” the statement said—language that is identical to statements issued to other media sources following other unionization efforts across the country. “Starbucks success—past, present, and future—is built on how we partner together, always with Our Mission and Values at our core.”
But the company has cast a union as an unnecessary third party in its relationship with employees.
“We’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” the statement to the Independent said.
That messaging was also promoted by Schultz, the company’s founder who returned as CEO this year in the midst of these unionization efforts. In an open forum and public letter, he’s promised to do better by partners and “reimagine” their experience at work—without letting the unionization effort take hold.
“… (M)y job in coming back to Starbucks is to ensure the fact that we, the collective we, co-create, reimagine a new Starbucks with our partners at the center of it all,” Schultz’s letter said. “As a pro-partner company. A company that does not need someone in between us and our people.”
Hernandez, however, said a union representative is not a third party.
“It’s us. It’s our voices, legally, being amplified,” she said.