Workers at five Starbucks stores in and around Richmond, Virginia, voted overwhelmingly to unionize with Starbucks Workers United on Tuesday, bringing the number of unionized Starbucks in the United States to 25.
The Richmond wins, most of which were landslide victories, come as Starbucks employees around the country allege the company is retaliating against pro-union workers with bogus write-ups and unjustifiable firings.
Iman Djehiche, a 20-year-old barista at a store in North Chesterfield, Virginia, which voted 22-3 in favor of unionization Tuesday, said she and her co-workers began organizing after workers in Buffalo won their union in December and the last COVID surge began hitting the store.
“It was jump-started by the fact that a lot of us were out sick during the beginning of the Omicron surge, so we were really understaffed then,” Djehiche told VICE News. “And we realized exactly how strenuous it can be without the support of corporate on our side… our safety was being put second to profit, and we weren’t being treated with any sort of dignity and respect.”
In total, Djehiche’s store in North Chesterfield, two stores in the city of Richmond, and another two in nearby Midlothian voted to unionize. Between the five stores, 82 workers voted in favor of unionization, while 14 voted against. The final store, on Willow Lawn Drive in Richmond, voted unanimously for unionization.
Karolina Albert, a 26-year-old barista who also works at the North Chesterfield store, told VICE News that the cost of living was also a factor for them and their co-workers.
“Barely anyone can afford to live [in Richmond], let alone Starbucks baristas,” Albert said. “I have a full-time job on top of [Starbucks], where I work part-time. Sometimes I’ll get home at midnight or 12:30, and turn around and leave my apartment at 6 or 6:30 in the morning.”
In response to Tuesday’s vote tallies, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’ll be rallying with Starbucks workers in Richmond on Sunday, tweeted: “The movement of workers demanding dignity on the job wins again!”
Starbucks, which has repeatedly denied illegally retaliating against employees at its stores, said Tuesday it would honor the results of the elections in Virginia.
“As we have said throughout, we will respect the process and will bargain in good faith guided by our principles,” spokesperson Reggie Borges told VICE News. “We hope that the union does the same.”
Three more stores in the city of Richmond—there are at least 17 standalone stores with a Richmond address, according to the company’s website—have filed for elections, according to labor outlet More Perfect Union. In total, more than 200 stores in the U.S. have announced their intent to unionize.
Djehiche said her store’s priorities are improving wages and getting commitments to health and safety from the company. But she expects a battle with Starbucks to reach a collective bargaining agreement.
“I expect months and months of delay tactics,” Djehiche said.
“But what we hope to achieve would be a proper chance to get corporate to listen to us, since we’ve been ignored for so long, and have a seat at the table with them.”
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