Grand Rapids Starbucks votes to unionize

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (WOOD) — Starbucks employees in Grand Rapids voted to unionize, making it the first Starbucks location in Michigan to join the growing movement at the company’s stores nationwide.

The employees of the Burton and Rosemont Southeast Grand Rapids location voted to unionize 15-3. The votes have been cast in the mail in recent weeks and counted Friday by the National Labor Relations Board.

In March, employees have corporate in a letter about their intention to join a union, saying that they often use broken or worn-out equipment and must remain open despite staff shortages.

“We are inspired by the efforts of other partners organizing across the country, from buffalo, Memphis, Ann Arbor and Phoenix,” the employees wrote. “We here at Burton and Rosemont are joining forces because we’ve found that unions would allow us to really feel like partners.”

The Buffalo store became the first to unionize in December. Since then, dozens of venues have voted to unionize with landslide margins or even unanimously.

Malena Phanle was the Starbucks employee in Grand Rapids who led the store’s union operations.

“We have lost many good colleagues because of the working conditions,” she told News 8 on Friday.

She said that sometimes they couldn’t open the store because of broken equipment.

“I started to feel stuck at work and was very unhappy every time I left,” she told News 8 on Friday. “But when I looked at these other stores and announced their intentions to unite and learning what that meant, I thought, ‘Oh, I can do something about this.’ I don’t have to quit my job, I can fight for better working conditions.”

Workers said they were surprised Starbucks didn’t ask for a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board and instead just let workers vote. Starbucks has the legal right to request a hearing if a store requests to vote for a union.

“We definitely didn’t expect that,” said Phanle. “I think they looked at the number of people signing these cards and they looked at the letter and saw that before 90% of my colleagues signed it.”

News 8 contacted Starbucks for comment, but had not received a response Friday night.

Now that the vote has been passed, the next step is to sit down with Starbucks and work out a contract.

“I’d love to see this inspire other stores,” said Shelby Minnema, who has worked for Starbucks for a decade. “It’s definitely something that’s needed, especially after the pandemic we’ve all been through. People in the service industry were probably among the toughest jobs during the pandemic. And a lot of our protections and extra pay have disappeared in that time.”

Eleven other Starbucks stores in Michigan have signed up to unionize. According to the Workers United Labor Union, most of those locations have votes scheduled for next month.

“We certainly won’t be the last (to form a union),” said Phanle. “But I hope this encourages the other stores, who haven’t announced anything yet, to consider a union because it’s a great feeling and this is the start of a new journey for us. It makes staying here well worth it.”

She said other Starbucks stores in the Grand Rapids area are applying to join a union.

“They just need some encouragement,” she said. “And that’s what Burton and Rosemont are here for. It’s been such a fun process. We have built a close relationship through this process and I look forward to hearing from other stores and getting them in touch.”

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