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Three more Starbucks locations in Buffalo area vote to unionize

A Starbucks logo is seen on the window of one of the chain's coffee shops in Chicago, Illinois. Worker at the coffee shop have petitioned for a union vote, making it the first Starbucks in the Midwest to do so.
Scott Olson
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A Starbucks logo is seen on the window of one of the chain's coffee shops in Chicago, Illinois. Worker at the coffee shop have petitioned for a union vote, making it the first Starbucks in the Midwest to do so.

The number of unionized Starbucks stores has doubled after employees at three more locations in the Buffalo area voted to join Workers United, a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.

The tallies at all three stores were close, with one location voting 8-7 and the other two voting 15-12 in favor of a union.

"It's been a slog of a legal process," says Colin Cochran, an employee at one of the stores, noting that his location first petitioned for a vote six months ago. "It shouldn't be this hard... but at the end of the day, winners win."

Starbucks employees in Buffalo described enduring what they called union-busting tactics over many months, with one store closed for two months after it had petitioned for an election, and stores being flooded with managers sent in from across the country. Union organizers say it was an attempt to disrupt organizing efforts and dissuade employees from voting for a union.

The vote count, originally scheduled to take place last month, was delayed after Starbucks filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board contending that Starbucks locations in a single market should vote in one election together, not as individual stores, an argument it had made in previous elections as well. The NLRB denied the company's requests, allowing the vote counts to go forward.

The union drive among Starbucks workers gained momentum in December, after two stores in Buffalo became the first in the U.S. to unionize.

Early this year, employees at a Starbucks store in Mesa, Arizona, voted 25-3 to form a union, and today's vote counts bring the total of unionized stores to 6. Employees at stores in Seattle, Boston, Kansas City, elsewhere in western New York among other places, will be voting soon, according to union organizers. About 130 stores, across two dozen states, have petitioned for votes, out of about 9,000 stores nationwide.

Union organizers say they are seeking better training, better staffing, and better pay that will increase over time, as well as more respect from management.

In a memo to employees in December, Starbucks said it does not want a union between the company and its employees, referred to as partners, but said it would bargain in good faith, a promise it reiterated after Wednesday's vote count. Collective bargaining is already underway between Starbucks and the two Buffalo stores that unionized in December.

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