Baristas of the World Unite! Starbucks Workers in Whitehall Unionize

In just one year, 270 stores have unionized across the country and many workers see this as a testament to the power of grassroots organizing.

Workers at a Starbucks in Whitehall Township in the Lehigh Valley have become one of the latest locations to form a union amid a national effort to unionize Starbucks stores across the country. Earlier this month, employees at the Starbucks on MacArthur Road successfully voted to unionize their workplace, becoming the coffeehouse’s second union in the Lehigh Valley area. On Dec. 2, workers voted 16-10 in favor of forming a union after holding two voting sessions in the morning and evening, both of which were hosted by the National Labor Relations Board. 

This comes just two months after the store’s employees formed their own union organizing committee and filed a petition to form a union in late October. “This basically all started for our store after seeing the nationwide union effort across the company and experiencing our own frustrations at our location,” Bailey Muhl, a shift supervisor and union organizer, told the Bucks County Beacon. According to Muhl, a handful of workers started looking into forming a union and before they knew it, “a majority of the store was on board.”

Muhl says that one of the largest motivating factors to form a union was hourly pay. Workers at the Whitehall Starbucks location were frustrated and dissatisfied with their hourly wages, which they say were too low to sustain a living. “Starbucks only raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour this past August,” she said, adding that while many people are under the assumption that service workers mostly consist of high school students who are not financially independent, “school-aged employees aren’t serving the general public at 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the morning during the weekdays, which is normally our busiest times.” 

As a result, Muhl and her colleagues hope their unionization efforts can help increase wages “to better reflect the conditions in which employees at Starbucks are actually living.” In addition, workers also wanted to unionize in order to gain better job security and create more opportunities for upward growth at the company. As is the case with many union organizing campaigns, however, the store’s management was unsupportive of their employee’s efforts to unionize. 

“While we haven’t received the degree of union busting other stores are experiencing across the country, we did see them spread misinformation about unions and union organizers, which was disappointing,” she said. “The entire intent for unionizing is to make Starbucks more sustainable and prosperous, which should be beneficial for the business long term.” 

That being said, their efforts were not completely without support. Many customers, local politicians, and other union members attended a sip-in at the store just days before the vote to help show their approval and support for unionization. “Seeing the support on the local level honestly reaffirmed our decision and likely led to our unionizing with a 16-10 vote in favor,” Muhl continued. As far as next steps go, the newly formed union is eager to get to the bargaining table. 

Starbucks workers have unionized at a record pace at many locations across the country. In just one year, more than 300 stores have filed to unionize, with union petitions up by 57 percent from the previous year. Workers at 270 locations have successfully voted to unionize. Many workers see this as a testament to the power of grassroots organizing, but they are also fearful of retaliation from corporate leadership.

Despite facing charges from the National Labor Relations Board for illegal union-busting, the Starbucks corporation has denied any wrongdoing and is still aggressively fighting unionization efforts at various stores. In fact, corporate leadership have even started giving added benefits to non-union locations, like higher wages and health insurance coverage, among others. This has caused some newer employees to question whether or not unions are even necessary in the first place, which has long been considered a classic union-busting tactic. 

For employees who are still trying to unionize, however, the fear of waking up one day and losing their jobs is always present, and for those who have already formed a union, actually getting to the bargaining table is easier said than done. In the overwhelming majority of unionized Starbucks locations, contract negotiations have been delayed indefinitely. But Muhl remains optimistic.

“There is currently no U.S. union contract and we’re seeing the delays the company is causing with the Buffalo stores, but we’re ready and confident we’ll get there,” she added.

If you are a Starbucks worker interesting in organizing a union at your store you can contact Starbucks Workers United here: https://sbworkersunited.org/#start-organizing

Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer with a focus on culture, politics, education, and LGBTQ rights.

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