RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Workers at several Richmond-area Starbucks stores are celebrating after winning five elections, becoming the first of the coffee chain’s stores in Virginia to unionize.
“It honestly feels like a huge weight has been lifted,” said J. Fletcher, a shift supervisor and union organizer at the Huguenot Village location. “I’m incredibly happy and I have this new energy of going to work now.”
Workers at the five locations in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield voted overwhelmingly on April 19 to seek union representation with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Workers International Union. Across the five stores, 14 workers voted against the unionization drive, while 81 voted in favor of it.
Fletcher said one of the best parts of the ballot counting, which took place in Baltimore but was broadcast remotely, was watching it live alongside his fellow workers.
“We were able to be there and support each other for that too, so every time we got the win, we were able to celebrate each one together,” Fletcher said.
What Comes Next
Now, the union and Starbucks will have to sit down at the negotiating table to hammer out a contract — on a timeline set by the NLRB.
“We respect the NLRB’s process and will bargain in good faith,” a Starbucks spokesperson told 8News.
When it comes to negotiating priorities, Fletcher said the things they’re asking for came directly from the partners in area stores, “We’ve started asking on the floor just, ‘Hey, what are some of the things you wanna see in these contracts?’ and we’re taking these ideas down.”
Fletcher added that the number one priority so far has been pay.
“Starbucks, unfortunately, is way behind on the $15 an hour starting pay,” Fletcher said. “You look at all these other customer-facing hourly jobs, they’re starting at $15, $16 an hour.”
Fletcher also emphasized the need for seniority pay, saying there were some partners at his store who have worked for Starbucks for up to fourteen years, but still make only a little more than new hires, emphasized the need for more seniority pay. Turnaround time to make sure workers don’t have to close late one night, then come in to open less than 7 hours later.
Starbucks has previously promised to raise starting pay to $15 an hour and institute seniority raises, saying the change was designed to support workers and help recruit more new employees.
According to Indeed, the average Starbucks barista in Virginia starts at $12.18 an hour. That’s compared to a reported average of $14.69 an hour for baristas at all coffee shops across the commonwealth.
“We’re not against Starbucks. If we were against Starbucks, we would just quit,” Fletcher said. “We wanna uphold our part of making Starbucks a better place to work and a better for customers to come.”
On Sunday, April 23, organizers have planned a rally, called Unity Fest, to celebrate the successful union drive. The event will feature an appearance by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a major proponent of labor rights, and performances by several musical groups.
“God, I am so thankful for all the support in this massive victory today,” tweeted Dillon Dix, a worker at the Westchester Commons Starbucks. In addition to their role at Starbucks, Dix is a musician, and will perform at Unity Fest under the moniker “SameStory.”