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Jacksonville Starbucks may be unionizing. Here's what's next.

Starbucks
Michelle Corum
/
WJCT News
The Starbucks at San Jose Boulevard and Ricky Drive was the first Jacksonville location to formally begin the union process. It may be among the first in Florida to successfully unionize.

Two Starbucks locations in Jacksonville may be among the first in Florida to unionize as ballots go out to eligible workers next week.

Organizers at the two locations, San Marco Square and Ricky Drive in Mandarin, won a victory against Starbucks earlier this year when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that employees could vote for unions on a store-by-store basis.

Starbucks had argued for votes to be done regionally, meaning all employees at all stores in the Jacksonville area, including locations that have not expressed interest in unionizing, would be given a ballot over whether any employees could start a union.

"It's a double-edged sword," Mason Boykin, a shift supervisor at the Ricky Drive location, said. "I obviously want to see more stores wanting to organize, and I definitely believe that there's interest."

According to Boykin, the corporate push for a districtwide vote was an attempt by Starbucks to dilute union supporters at the ballot box. At the same time, he believes the more stores that unionize, the more power each individual unit has over management.

Boykin's Starbucks will count the votes May 10, with a simple majority granting or denying employees their union. The San Marco location will vote around the same time.

Nationally, Starbucks owns around 9,000 chain stores. Over 150 have begun the union process with 13 successfully voting to join Workers United, including the company's flagship roastery in New York.

It hasn't all been success for organized labor, though. Some chains have been unable to meet the support threshold on their petition to trigger an election, while a Buffalo Starbucks voted down a local unit late last year.

Starbucks employees, referred to as partners by the company, want higher wages, changes to the scheduling system and a transformation of how the company handles tips, among other demands.

Because locations have elected to organize as separate units-by-store, negotiations, grievances and contractual demands will vary from store to store. Boykin himself took issue with how managers responded to his complaints of homophobia and transphobia from customers.

Workers across the country have expressed frustration as pandemic benefits, such as hazard pay and a daily food and drink allowances, were taken away even as Starbucks' sales rebounded early in the pandemic and profits soared. Starbucks says it has replaced some COVID-19 benefits with others, such as paid COVID-19 isolation leave, as the pandemic has evolved.

"Since COVID started and even before then, it's been very clear how little they care to put forth effort anymore," Nina Negron, a member of the Ricky Drive organizing committee, said.

Starbucks also faces allegations of retaliation against organizers and union-minded employees in several states, with the NLRB filing an official complaint over the termination of two Arizona employees, a move the board says violated federal law.

Amid the ongoing conflict with labor is a shakeup in Starbucks' corporate executive structure. Howard Schultz, twice-head of the coffee chain, was announced as interim CEO for his third tenure at the top of the company.

In a meeting with employees Monday, Schultz described himself as "pro-Starbucks" rather than "anti-union," though he implied the labor movement posed a threat to profits and the continued success of the company.

"We can't ignore what is happening in the country as it relates to companies throughout the country being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionization," Schultz said.

Information from NPR was used in this report.

Updated: April 8, 2022 at 12:25 PM EDT
This story has been updated with the number of Starbucks stores that have unionized as of April 8th, 2022.
Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.