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Workers at 2 Wisconsin Starbucks join flurry of stores seeking union elections

Union says Tuesday was the 'largest single-day of filing' since effort began in 2021

a man speaks into a bullhorn surrounded by people holding signs
Evan McKenzie, a union organizer and barista at the Capitol Square Starbucks in Madison, addresses a rally on State Street. Robert D’Andrea/WPR

Workers at two Wisconsin Starbucks locations announced Tuesday that they filed petitions for union elections.

The workers in Madison and Monona were among employees at 21 Starbucks stores in 14 states in a mass filing effort. In the announcement, Starbucks Workers United said it was the “largest single-day of filing” since the unionization campaign began in 2021.

Earlier this month, employees at a Starbucks in Milwaukee voted 12 to 4 in favor of unionizing, the National Labor Relations Board website showed. It was the seventh store in the state to do so, according to data from unionelections.org.

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Workers from stores across the country co-authored a letter to Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan Tuesday. They said management across the chain is cutting hours and crafting “unreliable schedules” that place more work on fewer employees.

Although they work at different stores, the workers said they’re “united through our shared experiences” and their demand for better wages, consistent scheduling and a safe workplace.

The workers also said Starbucks prioritizes sales and profits over worker safety, noting they’ve worked through violent threats from customers, unsafe weather conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We ‘partners’ demand a say,” the letter read. “We are the face of Starbucks. As employees, we deserve the same respect and dignity as the CEO.” 

In a statement, Addie Kohlhepp, a Starbucks barista from the Madison store seeking a union election, said the Madison workers are seeking a union because they want a better work environment and a voice in decision-making.

“We all love working with each other, but we want to have a direct say in the things that affect our livelihood, such as pay, scheduling and general work changes,” Kohlhepp said.

Even if the Wisconsin stores unionize, they could face challenges in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the company. The National Labor Relations Board last year said Starbucks has refused to negotiate union contracts with 144 unionized cafes across the country, according to the Seattle Times

In a statement, Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said the company respects the rights of workers to organize, and it aims to negotiate first contracts with represented stores this year.

“We encourage all partners at stores petitioning for representation to get the facts, make an informed choice and ensure their voice is heard by voting in neutral, secret-ballot elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board,” Trull said. “Our aim will be to ensure the process is fair and our partners’ voices are heard.”