Brief

Madison store is third Wisconsin Starbucks where employees seek a union

By: - March 30, 2022 6:00 am
Starbucks - 1 E Main St Madison

Starbucks Coffee’s store at 1 E. Main St. in Madison is the third in Wisconsin where employees have filed a petition for a union election. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)

Employees at a third Wisconsin Starbucks location filed a petition for union representation Tuesday, continuing a nationwide union drive that has been unfolding since late last year at the Seattle-based coffee chain.

Between 20 and 30 employees who work at the Madison Starbucks located at 1 E. Main St., across the street from the state Capitol, are expected to vote in an election later this spring on union representation.

“We want to have a voice in our workplace to enact sensible policies,” said Lee Marfyak, a shift supervisor at the store. Employees want better pay as well as better health care benefits, including coverage for mental health, he said.

Evan McKenzie, a barista, has worked for Starbucks for five years, the last two at the Main Street store where he works now.

Talk of unionizing at the store began in the COVID-19 pandemic, McKenzie said.

“Starbucks very publicly gave their workers a $3 pay increase for a while,” he said. “They gave us food and drink benefits and a variety of other things. About halfway through the pandemic they just took all those things away. It seemed very disingenuous to us, especially as a company that sort of flags itself as this progressive, employee-friendly company.”

In February, employees at a Starbucks in Plover, Wis., near Stevens Point, and at one in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek filed petitions for union elections.

The Starbucks employees are signing with Starbucks Workers United, part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). According to a pro-union website tracking the Starbucks organizing campaign, employees at about 170 locations around the country have either announced they were organizing or formally filed for a representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. So far employees have voted for union representation at nine outlets and against unionization at one.

The union campaign has focused on organizing individual stores. The NLRB rejected early attempts by the company to have elections that covered a group of stores in a broader market. Since then, the company has largely refrained from objections that would delay the vote at individual stores, leading to a rapid scheduling of union certification elections across the country.

Starbucks has opposed the union organizing drives. After a majority of employees voted for union representation at a Buffalo Starbucks — the first Starbucks in the country to have a union — Rossann Williams, executive vice president, posted an open letter to employees online.

In the Dec. 20 letter, Williams stated that “we do not want a union between us as partners” — the term that the company uses to refer to employees — but that the company would bargain in good faith where a union was voted in. A spokesperson for the company said Tuesday that management’s position has not changed.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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