First Starbucks Unionizes in Tennessee

Outside view of Starbucks Coffee

A Starbucks in Tennessee became the first store in the state to join what has become a nationwide movement among the coffee chain giant’s employees to unionize.

“The Merchants Drive Starbucks in Knoxville, Tennessee just WON their union vote and will become the first unionized Starbucks store in the south,” Starbucks Workers United announced Tuesday on Twitter.

The movement that began in Buffalo, New York, and worked its way through the Midwest to stores in Ohio and Minnesota has now gone nationwide.

According to union’s Twitter account, stores in Utah, Arizona and California have also joined the union, while stores in several other states are protesting what they describe as unfair labor policies.

“Starbucks is the leader in the coffee industry, and one of the most successful companies in the world,” the Starbucks Workers United website says. “We want to share in that success, and we want to have a voice in determining what that looks like for us. We think there is a disconnect between corporate and us. The company says that partners come first, but all too often puts large shareholders above all else.”

In response to the Tennessee store’s unionization effort, Starbucks Workers United claims that company owner and former CEO Howard Schultz is attempting to buy them off with a new benefits package.

The union seems to have already decided that whatever the offer is, it will not be good enough.

“BREAKING: Insiders at Starbucks tell us Howard Schultz plans to announce new benefits in an attempt to slow the momentum of our union campaign,” the group said Thursday. “We know that this is a response to our efforts, and without a union these benefits can be taken away as easily as they can be granted.”

After the Cleveland store unionized, the union members sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, describing their issues with the company:

Starbucks partners invest their safety, time, and well-being to serve at the forefront of the customer service industry, and this has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. (However), we do not feel we have been adequately cared for in terms of consistent guidelines or effective safety measures … These experiences have often (led) to burnout, disillusionment, and a feeling that rather than being considered “partners,” we are simply cogs in a machine. … we know we can all do better.

The company has not directly commented on the unionization efforts.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Starbucks Coffee” by TR.



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9 Thoughts to “First Starbucks Unionizes in Tennessee”

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  3. Dr Ken

    You would think by the education level of most baristas that they would know increasing the product cost reduces the sale. Starbucks unionizes, the cost of a cup of coffee goes up. That cost, which is already exorbitantly high, results in customers going elsewhere for their cup of coffee. Reduced customer traffic means less sales which means the less need for staff. Baristas, let me be both blunt and candid, you are easily replaced by those who will work for less money. So, did you win? Ask that of yourself when you are on the other side of the counter having to pay for now even more over-priced coffee. Did your degree, did your education, teach you anything?

    1. Cannoneer2

      “you are easily replaced by those who will work for less money” So goes the great hope of the Chamber of Commerce crowd….

  4. william delzell

    This is GOOD news! Employees at fast food places need security and decent wages/benefits to improve morale and the ability to support a family.

  5. Kevin

    I think this is GREAT! You can start counting the days until there are mechanized baristas in every cafe’. It’ll be a win-win. The shop owners will save a bunch of money on pay and benefits, and all of those kids with PhD’s in Fine Arts, Sociology and Basket Weaving, can get back to pursuing their dreams!

    1. 83ragtop50

      Kevin – My thoughts exactly. Wish I could boycott them, but I have been doing that for many, many years. Unfortunately, this seems to indicate three things:
      1) A younger generation that seeks to get something for nothing.
      2) The effect of the influx of those moving here from ruined states.
      3) Higher costs for all Tennesseans.

      And, yes, I am personally acquainted with a college graduate with a music who cannot get a real job 3 years after graduation, so he works at Starbucks.

      1. Cannoneer2

        As opposed to an older generation of corporate chieftains who always want something for nothing? Or 120% after an employee has given 110%? The pendulum swings both ways.

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