Baristas in Superior win Colorado’s first Starbucks union election

Matt Bloom/CPR News
Len Harris (left) and other baristas watch the ballot count on her laptop at the Rock Creek Circle shop in Superior on April 22, 2022. Workers voted in voted 12-2 in favor of unionizing.

Updated April 23 at 8:56 a.m.

A group of Starbucks baristas in Superior will become Colorado’s first to unionize after they won their election on Friday. They join a growing number of the coffee chain’s workers around the country pushing for higher wages and changes to working conditions through organizing.

Staff voted 12-2 in favor of forming a local chapter of the massive Service Employees International Union. The National Labor Relations Board will certify the results in the coming weeks, and workers will then begin the bargaining process with management.

Baristas screamed with joy and hugged inside the Rock Creek Circle store’s lobby Friday afternoon as they watched the count take place on a laptop over Zoom.  For many on staff, it was the first time they were involved with an organizing effort, said Len Harris, a shift supervisor and lead organizer.

“We did the thing,” Harris said. “I’m jittering with excitement, it's hard to process words.”

The group filed its petition for an election last December to push for a slate of changes in the workplace. Those changes include higher pay, looser rules around tipping and more structured scheduling options. 

A district manager for the store declined to comment about the outcome. In past statements, the company has said it opposes barista efforts to unionize.

Company leaders point to a $1 billion dollar investment in wage increases, which is projected to bring the average barista pay up to $17 an hour this year, as evidence of Starbucks’ commitment to employees. 

Howard Shutlz, the company’s returning CEO, has also promised to invest more in the company’s people and stores in the coming years. 

“From the beginning, we've been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners without a union between us and that conviction has not changed,” the company said in a previous statement to CPR News.

Workers say customer demands and rising costs of living drove need for union

Despite that, Colorado workers say wages haven’t  kept up with the rising cost of living. On top of better pay and more consistent scheduling, they’re looking for more realistic customer quotas, which have gotten harder to fill as the company has diversified its food and beverage offerings, Harris of the Rock Creek Circle Starbucks said. 

“What once was a black coffee and a bagel is now three breakfast sandwiches and three specialized customized lattes,” Harris said. “The demand has become far too much for us to handle adequately.” 

Workers in at least six other Starbucks locations in Colorado have filed petitions to hold separate union elections. Shops in Denver and Colorado Springs will vote over the coming months. 

Saga Quist, a barista and high school senior in Superior, said she believed the Superior store’s victory would inspire even more locations in Colorado to follow suit. 

She said securing more PTO for mental health care was at the top of her list of changes she’d like to see the union push for. 

“This isn’t just about Starbucks,” Quist said. “This is about making retail stores, restaurants and other places better places to work.”

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