Workers at three unionized Atlanta Starbucks stores have joined a national series of rallies and campaigns coordinated by Starbucks Workers’ United this summer to keep the pressure on Starbucks to come to the bargaining table, as the stores fight for a union contract. 

With contract negotiations stalled, SBWU in June held a series of one-day strikes over claims that Starbucks banned Pride Month decorations, then delivered an open letter over concerns that generous benefits for transgender workers don’t apply to union members–and in July followed up with a “Union Is Calling” national bus tour that stopped in Atlanta last week.

Meanwhile, the unionized Atlanta stores, located at Ansley Mall, on the Westside and in Alpharetta, have not had any further contract negotiations with Starbucks representatives since initial meetings broke off in December 2022, SBWU’s South organizer, Camden Mitchell, told Atlanta Civic Circle

He added that Starbucks’ stance towards negotiations hasn’t changed since the National Labor Relations Board made a sweeping ruling in March that the coffee giant violated labor practices by unlawfully firing workers affiliated with the union. That followed a major NLRB ruling on Dec. 27 of last year that Starbucks failed to negotiate in good faith at 21 stores in the Pacific Northwest. In labor relations, “good faith” is a legal term that requires meaningful participation in collective bargaining from both sides. 

“It’s egregious,” said Mitchell. “I can’t believe it has taken this long considering what the partners [workers] are actually asking for.”

About 500 days have elapsed since the first Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York unionized in late 2021. Over 335 stores have joined the SBWU ranks since then–including the Ansley Mall and West Side stores last summer, and then an Alpharetta store at the intersection of Crabapple and Houze Roads in January–but no store has yet been able to land a contract with Starbucks. 

“They have the lawyers and they have the money,” said Mitchell. “They’ll just keep appealing [NLRB rulings] and taking it as far as they want.” 

While SBWU members say Starbucks won’t come to the bargaining table “in good faith,” to actually negotiate a contract, Starbucks claims that SBWU and unionized workers have ignored its attempts to schedule individual sessions for each unionized shop–including the five in Georgia. 

“Starbucks has continued to propose dates for first contract bargaining sessions for certified stores in Georgia, but Workers United has not confirmed any proposed session,” said Starbucks’ Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Andrew Trull in an email. “[SBWU] has refused to engage with the company to initiate scheduling future contract bargaining sessions for any represented store in Georgia.”

Trull added that “Starbucks has met Workers United representatives in person for complete, full-day bargaining sessions for 10 stores since March 2023.” But none of these stores are in Georgia. 

The impasse over even holding talks stems from Starbucks’ objection to having an SBWU representative present via Zoom at each store’s negotiations. Early on, SBWU wanted to negotiate a single contract for the unionized stores, but Starbucks refused, saying it would only negotiate with each store individually. Since local baristas are not experienced in union contract negotiations, SBWU adopted a hybrid strategy, where national SBWU representatives call in via Zoom for the individual store negotiations.

SBWU’s Mitchell told Atlanta Civic Circle in January that when the Ansley Mall and Westside stores’ employees were finally able to schedule talks last December, Starbucks’ corporate representatives walked out as soon as SBWU’s representative appeared over Zoom. 

Both sides have filed numerous unfair labor practice complaints with the NLRB over this issue since the initial talks derailed.

In or out of union? 

With contract negotiations stalled some stores that unionized early on are having second thoughts. According to Starbucks, 13 stores have filed NLRB petitions to decertify their union vote–including a Georgia store in Augusta.  To do that, workers at the location hold a vote, and a simple majority in favor of decertifying dissolves their union membership. 

While these decertification petitions are wins for Starbucks, the company could lose a unionization vote at one of its flagship U.S. stores. Starbucks’ Chicago Roastery, its most profitable U.S. location, filed for a union election earlier this month. The Roastery is a jewel in the crown for Starbucks, and it would be a big morale boost for SBWU’s over 8,000 members if the location votes to unionize. 

“It’s a huge, huge deal,” said Mitchell.

Pride Month Clashes

Starbucks and SBWU have been fighting on multiple other fronts, including before the NLRB, as they grapple over terms for contract negotiations.  

In late June, workers at dozens of unionized Starbucks locations joined “Strike With Pride,” a series of one-day strikes in reaction to baristas’ accusations that Starbucks forced them to remove LGBTQIA+ decorations during Pride Month in June. 

In Georgia, the Ansley Mall store and another unionized store in Waycross participated in Strike With Pride.

SBWU also delivered an open letter to Starbucks on June 29, signed by over 300 transgender barista members, that demanded clarity from Starbucks over news reports about potential changes to its generous supplemental insurance plan for gender-affirming health care. 

It also asked Starbucks to clarify whether union members can receive a new benefit that reimburses travel expenses for trans baristas who now must go out of state for gender-affirming care. Starbucks instituted the travel reimbursement late last year, as an increasing number of states, including Georgia, continue to pass transphobic laws.

“We ask that Starbucks use direct language that clarifies both union and non-union partners will have access to the new travel reimbursement benefit,” the letter said.

On its One Starbucks site, the coffee giant called the SBWU’s Pride Month strikes and open letter about transgender benefits a “smear campaign,”–and announced it had filed additional unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB on June 26 over the union’s “false claims” about a Pride decoration ban and changes to gender-affirming care benefits. 

Starbucks also sent its own open letter to SBWU President Lynne Fox stating that it has not changed gender-affirming care benefits and accusing SBWU of using the issue “to advance your smear campaign and further promote fear-mongering amongst LGBTQIA2+ partners.” 

‘Union Is Calling’ bus tour

Georgia Starbucks union members also participated in a national “Union Is Calling” bus tour coordinated by SBWU to drum up community support around the country. When the bus stopped in Atlanta on July 12, SBWU South and other labor groups held a block party at the IBEW Union Hall before taking the bus to Phipps Plaza for a protest action in front of LegoLand

SBWU and Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America said the action was at LegoLand because Lego Executive Chairman Jørgen Vig Knudstorp sits on Starbucks’ board of directors.” Make Starbucks stop breaking labor laws,” read the protestors’ banner addressed to Knudstorp. 

Mitchell said Phipps Plaza security removed the activists from the premises after about 20 minutes of protesting. 

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