2 Edgewater Starbucks Locations Vote to Unionize, Marking First Organized Stores in Chicago

Workers from two Starbucks locations in Edgewater celebrate successful unionization votes on May 25, 2022. (Nick Blumberg / WTTW News)Workers from two Starbucks locations in Edgewater celebrate successful unionization votes on May 25, 2022. (Nick Blumberg / WTTW News)

Employees at two Starbucks coffee shops in Edgewater have voted to unionize, marking the mega-chain’s first organized locations in Chicago, according to the results of a vote count shared by organizers.

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“It’s exhilarating,” said Teddy Hoffman, who works at the location on Ridge Avenue and Clark Street. “We just made history today.”

They’re the third Chicago-area Starbucks locations to unionize, joining colleagues in northwest suburban Cary who voted in favor of representation last month. So too did workers at a Starbucks in downstate Peoria.

“I think that there is a younger generation of workers in Starbucks across the country, and honestly in workplaces across the country, that are ready to stand up for themselves,” said Kayla Menz, who works at the location at Bryn Mawr and Winthrop avenues.

That location voted 10-1 in favor of unionizing and the Clark and Ridge Starbucks voted 20-3, according to organizers.

Four other stores in Chicago – in Bucktown, Hyde Park, Logan Square, and downtown – are currently voting by mail on whether to unionize, with results expected in June.

Another Starbucks at Lincoln and Jersey avenues just filed for representation, organizers say.

All the Chicago-area stores moving to organize have filed for representation with Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United, an SEIU affiliate. A unionization vote at a La Grange Starbucks failed earlier this month, organizers’ first local loss. 

It’s part of a nationwide effort to organize Starbucks coffee shops that’s rapidly gained steam since the movement started in Buffalo, New York late last year. Workers at 260 other locations around the U.S. have filed for representation and 90 have won their elections, organizers say.

Hoffman says COVID fatigue played a role in workers’ decision to organize.

“(Starbucks) led with a really strong, really compassionate first response, but as the pandemic continued to get worse, so too unfortunately did their response. They kept peeling away protections, they kept peeling away benefits,” he said.

And after employee hours were cut earlier this year, Hoffman said that provided further motivation.

“We had partners who were afraid they would lose their benefits,” he said. “We had partners not able to make enough money to take advantage of those benefits. Enough was enough.”

Union backers have blasted Starbucks for “union-busting” tactics. The company has faced multiple complaints from the National Labor Relations Board for intimidating and firing pro-union workers.

A company spokesperson told WTTW News charges of union-busting are “categorically false,” but it has taken an aggressive stance against organizing efforts both internally and externally. 

After Starbucks employees were part of a group of union organizers invited to a meeting earlier this month with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a company executive complained about the sit-down in a letter to the White House and asked for face time of its own. 

“We believe this lack of representation discounts the reality that the majority of our partners oppose being members of a union and the unionization tactics being deployed by Workers United,” wrote AJ Jones II, Starbucks senior vice president for global communications and public affairs. 

Starbucks workers in Chicago say despite pushback from the company, they’re confident in the momentum of their movement.

“They’re more afraid of you than you are of them, you have an amazing team behind you, and you’ve got public opinion on your side. There’s so much you can do when you stand up together,” Menz said. “It wasn’t about one particular issue, or even really one particular store. It’s about having a voice in your workplace, and I think every worker deserves that.”

Contact Nick Blumberg: [email protected] | (773) 509-5434 | @ndblumberg

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