On Thursday, Sept. 29, the Albuquerque Starbucks located off of Rio Grande Boulevard and Interstate 40 became the first location of the national coffee chain to unionize in New Mexico. The New Mexico Public Relations Board counted employee ballots ultimately siding in favor of unionizing in a 10-7 vote.
Jacob Sherwood, a barista and lead organizer, said that they began the unionization process in May after having several issues with the company.
“It was just seeing the same problems with the company — understaffing shifts, labor cuts, mediocre wages — I started seeing these things over and over and over. And the only response we'd ever get from upper management is, ‘Oh, we're looking into how we can improve partners' lives, etc.’,” Sherwood said. “But nothing meaningful came from it … It was just union busting.”
One problem Sherwood encountered personally was a fluctuation and loss of hours, working 30 hours on some weeks and as little as eight hours on others: “I need that money to pay bills. I can't take a hit for hours,” Sherwood said.
“We as workers, and this goes for any industry, you don't want to feel disposable. You want to build a meaningful relationship with your work and your life and everything. I think a lot of people are realizing, coming out of the pandemic, how disposable we were,” Sherwood said.
Madz Dazzo, another barista and lead organizer, talked about not getting paid a living wage as a shift supervisor — something that motivated their want to unionize. In bargaining, Dazo said the union plans to work toward pay increases that adjust with inflation, along with a “just cause” clause, which mandates that there has to be a legitimate reason to terminate an employee.
While both Dazzo and Sherwood said many co-workers were on board, there was also a lot of fear around unionizing.
“We had people who showed interest, but for the most part, it was really fearful of the company, of their jobs, and just fear — that's a lot of it. And we had a really close count of 10 to seven. That's pretty close, and I attribute a lot of that to just the fear and intimidation practices of Starbucks,” Sherwood said.
A lot of this fear stemmed from never knowing if the shift you’re working would be your last, Sherwood said. Dazzo and Sherwood also said they were met with a lot of anti-union rhetoric from Starbucks, further cementing their fear. However, after a meeting with representatives from Starbucks Worker's United, a lot of myths were dispelled, according to Dazzo.
“They clarified a lot of stuff about unionizing for us. Starbucks has been telling people that if your store unionized you can't transfer to another store, which is not true. (Starbucks) were also saying that you can't cover shifts at other stores, which is also not true,” Dazzo said.
Before starting unionization efforts, Sherwood said he had never met the district manager, but afterward saw him more frequently. In meetings with management, “they put a lot of emphasis on the fact that we would have to pay union dues, and they made it sound like it was going to be a lot more than it actually is,” Dazzo said.
The store’s unionization marks the 34th state to have a unionized Starbucks, acording to Albuquerque Business First. Sherwood said that he hopes this causes a lot of residual effects on the labor movement and leads more stores to unionize.
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“I think it's huge. Starbucks has been around for a long time, and over the last year, we've had a lot of stores unionize. I think a lot of other places are seeing it; we've already seen Chipotle start unionizing, Trader Joe's started unionizing. A lot of companies that did not have union representation before are really starting to look for it,” Dazzo said.
Sherwood said that efforts like these are especially important as he believes the country is heading into another recession, drawing comparisons to the Great Recession of 2007.
“When Fortune 500 companies are faced with an economic crisis, the first people to go are the minimum wage workers. We don't have that job security. They can fire us at will — whenever for whatever,” Sherwood said.
Currently, the bargaining process has yet to start. The wording of the New Mexico law states that the company must “come in good faith” to bargain with the union, with no direct timeline on how soon after unionization the company must come to the table.
“Right now, the wording of the law is to come in good faith. Well, that's a really vague terminology, right? It's not really descriptive as to how long they have. So that's another union busting technique, right, because the law is purposely vague. They can make it stretch out for years,” Sherwood said.
A spokesperson for Starbucks said in a statement that they will, “respect the National Labor Relations Board process and bargain in good faith, and hopes the union does the same,” as reported by Source New Mexico.
Dazzo asked for continued support from community members as the unionization process continues.
“I think right now we just really needed support from our community, because since the vote has come back, there has been a lot of targeting of pro-union partners at my store,” Dazzo said. “So having just the support of the community telling us like they're excited that we're unionizing and ordering is union strong is awesome.”
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite