ABERDEEN, S.D. (KELO) — A Starbucks in Aberdeen is seeking to become the first unionized branch of the franchise in South Dakota, according to a release from Starbucks Workers United (SWU), a union which represents more than 300 stores and over 41,000 workers in the U.S.
If the attempt succeeds, the store on 7th Avenue will actually be not just the first unionized Starbucks in South Dakota, but the first in the Dakotas as a whole. That process is in motion, as workers at the Aberdeen Starbucks have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to unionize with SWU.
According to the release, workers also sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan to announce their organizing campaign, citing things such as a lack of staffing, failing equipment and improper working conditions.
KELOLAND News spoke Friday afternoon with Ace Loyd, a barista at the Aberdeen store, who has been with the company nine months.
“It was mostly the inaction of Starbucks as a corporation that led it,” Loyd explained when asked how this process began in Aberdeen. “We had a lot of issues, both with our store and with how upper management were often treating our baristas on the floor.”
Loyd said that employees had attempted to address these issues through the official channels provided by Starbucks — their version of HR, as he put it — “and they would go back on all their promises and leave us in the same or even worse condition than we were before.”
The poor working conditions outlined by Loyd aren’t just a concern for themselves and the other employees, he noted, but also for the public.
“There have been times where Starbucks has forced us to work in conditions that are unsafe not just for us, but for our customer’s health and safety with food being prepared for them,” Loyd said. “I don’t want to look the people that I serve every single day in the face and lie to them in omission. I don’t want to be the one serving a drink to someone I care about — and ‘here’s your drink, good luck not getting sick from it.'”
Loyd says that to themselves and the other employees, Starbucks has made it clear that they will put profit over the community they’re serving.
So, said Loyd, the employees decided that if the company wasn’t going to help, they would help themselves.
“It was a lot of us just sitting there at night, at like 10 p.m. when we worked the next morning at 4 a.m., just sitting there with our head in our hands like ‘what are we going to do next’,” said Loyd.
At the store, communication about the plan was difficult at the start.
“Going on the floor, trying to sneak in with small conversations like — a person who definitely doesn’t need to hear this is 2-feet away — so a lot of it was very hushed conversations on the floor,” said Loyd.
The release from SWU cites efforts by Starbucks to quash unionization attempts at its stores.
“Starbucks has launched a ruthless union-busting campaign that includes firing over 230 union leaders across the country and shuttering union stores. The NLRB has issued over 80 official Complaints against the company, encompassing over 1,400 violations of federal labor law.”Excerpt from the SWU release.
Loyd tells us he hasn’t seen any attempts to obstruct their unionization effort so far, at least not confirmed attempts.
“We definitely have things that seem a bit suspicious — why is this timing like this — but nothing that I can confidently, firmly say is like, a union busting attempt,” Loyd said, “though I 2010% believe [union busting attempts] will be coming very shortly.”
There is a history of Starbucks taking strong action to curtail unionization attempts, violating federal labor laws hundreds of times, and being ordered by courts to re-hire and compensate workers improperly fired.
Starbucks maintained that it has not fired or punished any employee for “supporting, organizing or otherwise engaging in lawful union activity in recent Senate panel hearings on possible child labor law violations.
Despite this history of retaliatory actions taken by the company, Loyd says he’s not afraid.
“We’ve tried going through the route that they want us to go through. We have tried playing nice and telling them what they want to hear and what we will do for them, and repeatedly we’ve just been stepped on and told that things are our fault,” said Loyd. “I’m kind of at my wits end with how they like to go about things — so I’m not scared. I take challenges like this head on.”
Loyd says he’s prepared for what’s to come as well, having kept documentation for legal purposes. “I get excited for this sort of thing,” he said.
With the petition filed, Loyd says he and the other employees are focused now on keeping up excitement for the move, and to foster community support for the vote.