WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — “Grind coffee, not workers.”
That’s the message baristas and advocates tried to get across Friday as the first Rhode Island Starbucks pushes to unionize its employees.
More than 50 Starbucks locations nationwide have voted to unionize this year, according to barista Cassie Burke. The union has won 85% of the elections so far, and Burke said there are votes scheduled for more than 100 stores across 30 states.
The Warwick location joined the movement when its employees filed a petition to unionize last month.
“As the first store in Rhode Island to petition for unionization, we hope our efforts can serve as an example for others in the state, and show them that a better workplace is possible,” the store employees wrote in a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
Since then, Burke said customers have been showing their support for the coffee chain’s employees in all sorts of ways, most notably by giving baristas names for their orders such as “Union Yes” and “Union Strong.”
While the support has been overwhelming, Burke claims Starbucks has been aggressively fighting employees’ efforts to unionize.
“Starbucks has been acting very malignantly with all the unions,” Burke said. “Things like firing people, things like cutting people’s hours, and that’s not the treatment of a corporation that actually cares.”
12 News reached out to Starbucks regarding Burke’s claims, to which a spokesperson described them as “categorically false.”
“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 spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesperson added that the company respects workers’ right to organize and will bargain with them in good faith.
Burke is confident that her coworkers are on board, especially since their store has been plagued with staffing shortages, malfunctioning equipment and plumbing problems.
“We’re just making sure the store operates well, and that’s how we can best serve our customers and do our jobs,” Burke added.
Employees have already been given their ballots and have until June 14 to submit them.
“We feel really good about where we are,” Burke said. “Everyone’s on the same page; we’re ready to make this happen together.”