Utah Starbucks employees become the first in the state to unionize

Baristas at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights on Friday officially became the first store to unionize in Utah, joining a growing labor movement of more than 100 organized Starbucks locations nationwide.

After sending in ballots last month, the workers’ vote was certified on Friday by the National Labor Relations Board, with a margin of 11-6.

“I’m so happy that we get to join this broader national movement officially,” Jacob Lawson, a barista and shift supervisor who organized the effort, told the Deseret News. “You know, Buffalo, New York, they’ve been front-running this. … But now that we’re in this stage, we’re in the exact same stage they are, and we all get to contribute to the movement in the same way Buffalo did at the very beginning.”

Two stores in Buffalo successfully unionized last December and nearly 300 have filed in their wake. Since December, nearly 150 stores in 29 states have won union elections, as of Friday afternoon, according to More Perfect Union.

“We’re proud to win,” members of the rank-and-file organizing committee said in a statement. “We’re standing up. … Unions aren’t a Band-Aid for bad bosses but a fundamental expression of democracy at work. Democracy is hanging by a thread. Our vote today strengthens our country by setting the example. It’s a shame our corporate leaders see us as a threat.”

Cottonwood Heights workers will take a few months to “collect (themselves)” before beginning the collective bargaining process, according to Lawson, at which point they will work with Workers United International Union to negotiate wages and benefits.

Lawson previously told the Deseret News that workers plan to push for higher wages to keep up with inflation and better working conditions for the staff — after one 63-year-old barista alleged he had been the victim of age-based discrimination.

Starbucks shift leader Jacob Lawson marks votes in favor of or against unionizing as they are tallied by the National Labor Relations Board over a Zoom meeting at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights on Friday, June 10, 2022. The majority of staff voted in favor of unionizing , with a final tally of 11 yes votes and six no votes.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The calm before the storm

A handful of off-duty employees huddled around a laptop screen at the store on Friday to watch the proceedings via Zoom. As the ballots were read out, Lawson carved the “yeas” and “nays” on a chalkboard.

Cheers erupted when the results were final, workers high-fived and toasted one another with sparkling soda.

“We are standing up for ourselves and I believe we are fighting for our rights,” Lawson said. “We’re saying we’re not cogs in a machine and we deserve to be treated better. … We did it.”

Barista Victoria Cline said that although she has another job and doesn’t need the benefits, she supported the movement because of the way her co-workers welcomed her to the team as a new hire in April.

“I voted yes for them,” she said. “I’m proud and I’m very happy for Jacob and for all the other partners that are looking forward to having a union and to be able to have a voice.”

Still, Lawson said he knows there is a lot more work ahead, and he doesn’t plan to rest on his laurels. In addition to finalizing a contract, he is actively working to support other local stores who want to unionize, including employees of the store on 400 South in Salt Lake City, who filed their papers in May.

“I’ve already talked with other stores, and I think they’ve been waiting for and needing that nudge to see that we’re serious about unionizing,” Lawson said. “Now that it’s official, I think that’s going to send shockwaves.”

He expects to see more union-busting efforts at stores that have yet to file paperwork, because companies are more regulated in what they can say once a store is actively working toward organizing.

If anything, Lawson said he hopes their success will be a beacon that it can be done even in states that aren’t friendly to labor unions.

“Utah is one of the most conservative states, and we keep winning in conservative states,” he said. “The union movement is alive in the South and it’s alive here. We’re the start of it here in Utah, but I don’t think it stops with us.”

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Starbucks barista Victoria Cline talks about the outcome of a union vote at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights on Friday, June 10, 2022. The majority of staff voted in favor of unionizing, with a final tally of 11 yes votes and six no votes.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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