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Grand River Starbucks files for union; Lake Lansing store has trial

March 14, 2022
<p>Customers get into their vehicles after visiting the Lake Lansing Starbucks store. The Lake Lansing location filed for a union election in February, the first in greater-Lansing to follow a nationwide trend.</p>

Customers get into their vehicles after visiting the Lake Lansing Starbucks store. The Lake Lansing location filed for a union election in February, the first in greater-Lansing to follow a nationwide trend.

Photo by Dan Netter | The State News

On March 7, through a Twitter post, workers at the Grand River Avenue and Stoddard Starbucks in East Lansing announced they would be filing for a union election. This is the second Starbucks to be organizing in the Greater Lansing area, joining a nationwide movement. The first was at the Starbucks location at Lake Lansing Road and Kerry Street.

“It has become apparent that partners need a stronger voice in new policies and changes within our stores and we have been pushed to our breaking point to try and uphold the values, mission, and intangible expectations from this corporation,” a letter from the workers to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson reads.

Meanwhile, on March 3, the Lake Lansing Starbucks workers who filed for a union election in February had a formal hearing conducted in front of a hearing officer from the Detroit office of the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB. 

The election was held so the regional director of the Detroit office can decide the parameters of the election. In the case of this trial, like many of the Starbucks election trials throughout the nation, it is about whether or not the election should be held by only the Lake Lansing Starbucks location or if it should include all of the Starbucks locations under the district managers jurisdiction.

Social relations and policy senior and Starbucks employee Grace Norris said the lawyers for Starbucks are trying to argue that the Lake Lansing store’s election should be held district-wide because the district manager is the person who runs the stores, not the store managers. Norris herself said that this claim is not true – she has seen her district manager in the store only four times, with once being in October and with three times being in the last month, after the location filed for an election.

This is in line with what Starbucks has done in the past with unionization attempts. In Buffalo, New York, where Starbucks baristas first started organizing, Starbucks attempted to make this argument but failed. The labor board ruled that elections would be held on a store-by-store basis. 

In late February, the labor board also ruled on a case for a Starbucks in Arizona which set a binding precedent and will make it difficult for Starbucks to make this argument in the future. But because this decision was made after the Lake Lansing store filed, this precedent does not apply to this hearing, but it does foreshadow the outcome.

Norris said Starbucks does this to try and delay the election, even though the outcome is almost guaranteed to not be in their favor.

“Anyone who works at Starbucks will tell you, you never see the district manager unless you work during peak,” Norris said. “The store manager is the one who handles all of your problems. I think Starbucks knows too that there’s never going to be a case that they’re going to win. Because the stores function so independently, that there's no way you can make an argument that the district manager is more involved than the store manager.”

After the workers announced they were filing for an election, Norris and other workers said that the district manager started to show up at random times and would just sit in the store’s lobby and work. Barista Olivier Stroud said he felt the dynamic change after the workers filed.

“It’s very intimidating having your boss’s boss come in every day,” he said. “When you’re just trying to do your daily job and suddenly, you have all these eyes watching you.”

Store manager Desirae Taylor did not respond to provide a comment for this story.

Norris said that soon after the trial started, two flyers appeared in their backroom, one that painted unions negatively, to scare workers from signing union cards. The other flyer was a note from her district manager regional director explaining why Starbucks was asking for a district-wide election, rather than among each individual store.

Last month, on Feb. 8, the coffee giant fired seven workers from a Memphis location. The official reason, according to Starbucks, was that the workers violated company safety and security policies. Workers United, the Starbucks workers union, alleged the company fired them in retaliation for organizing.

The group was dubbed the “Memphis 7” by the union and many of the workers. Stroud said he is not super concerned about something like what happened in Memphis happening at the Lake Lansing store, but it’s always something in the back of his mind.

“It just makes it so the workplace is more stressful because suddenly I could lose my job,” Stroud said. “I have to think about all these small things that weren’t really covered in my training but other people, other stores have been fired for. It’s like a guessing game of tiptoeing around to make sure I don’t do some minor thing wrong and then get fired.”

Norris said she was also reading her employee handbook trying to find rules that the workers were not aware of. She also does not think that it is likely to happen but she calls it an “ever-present boogeyman” in the store.

“I don’t worry about too many things,” Norris said. “But there’s definitely baristas who are worried about retaliation.”

Apart from the flyers that were put up in the backroom, Norris said there has not been much union-busting activity by Starbucks at the store. She expects the union-busting tactics to become more common once the trial is over and when the election is happening. She anticipates the management will try to have one-on-one sessions between a manager and worker about unions to try and intimidate the workers.

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