Organizers at the first El Paso Starbucks attempting to unionize canceled a planned protest on Thursday and may call off an impending vote, saying that anti-union tactics by management are stifling worker support.
“The amount of people Starbucks has scared with lies about not being able to transfer or taking their benefits away has been growing more and more and it’s left us with less and less people to vote yes for a union,” El Paso union organizer Margie Roman wrote in a text message. Roman is a barista at Starbucks store #19876, which is located at the Fountains at Farah shopping center.
“We don’t know how the vote will go now,” Roman wrote.
Starbucks has denied the allegations.
Roman said she and other organizers haven’t made a final decision on whether to cancel the vote scheduled for later this month.
In a June 1 press release titled “Union Busting is Disgusting,” Fountains Starbucks workers — who are generally referred to as partners — called on El Pasoans to support their unionization efforts during a protest planned for Saturday, June 4. They urged customers at the 8889 Gateway Blvd. West location to give the words “Union,” “Starbucks Union,” “Fountains Solidarity” or “Union Solidarity,” when asked for their names while placing an order.
In an Instagram post, organizers said they were canceling the protest due to unforeseen circumstances and “overworked and overwhelmed” baristas — the result of staff shortages, Roman said, noting that they’d also canceled “because management has made it a point to scare partners from being involved.”
The now-canceled protest was “in response to Starbucks’ union-busting tactics to intimidate and misinform partners all over El Paso about their labor rights, specifically the right to organize and form a union at any workplace,” the press release read. Management has also reduced organizers’ hours, according to the release.
Over text, Roman claimed that management had directly targeted her. Earlier this week, she said, a shift supervisor attempted to stop her from distributing reading material about unions to her coworkers, “which is false and ultimately unlawful,” she said. Since then, “more and more Starbucks Partners at our store have been continuously intimidated and essentially threatened by not being allowed to exercise their rights to talk about their workplace and a union,” she said.
Union organizers at other Starbucks stores across the country have made similar allegations.
In a statement read over the phone to El Paso Matters, Starbucks denied that it had taken anti-union measures at either the El Paso store or nationally.
“Any claims of anti-union activity are categorically false,” said a national Starbucks spokesperson, who declined to provide their name. “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. We respect our partners’ right to organize and are committed to following the (National Labor Relations Board) process.”
The coffee chain has more than 9,000 stores that are corporate-owned, the El Paso Fountains store among them.
Roman announced store employees’ intention to unionize through Workers United in an April 25 letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. That month, the store’s workers voted 18-26 to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, the first step toward unionizing.
They joined a national unionization movement among Starbucks employees, which has quickly gathered momentum since workers in Buffalo, New York, became the first employees of the international coffee chain to unionize in December 2021.
In just six months, workers at 282 stores in 38 states have filed for union votes, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board. On Friday, an Austin-area Starbucks became the first store in Texas to form a union, winning a 10-1 vote among employees.
Forming a union can allow workers to enter collective bargaining with management and push for improved benefits and labor conditions.
The voting process for the El Paso Starbucks is scheduled to begin on June 17 and last through July 11. In the press release, Roman expressed hope that a pro-union vote would inspire workers at other El Paso Starbucks stores, which so far have not moved to unionize.
With 28 employees, the Farah coffee shop would need 15 yes votes to bring a union, Roman wrote in a text — and right now, they’re about four votes shy, with many workers still undecided, she said.
Roman said she and other store organizers are waiting for input from region organizers and their attorney before deciding whether to call off the vote.