Upper Kirby Starbucks location is 1st in Houston to announce unionization

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Friday, July 22, 2022
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The Starbucks workers in Upper Kirby say they have national backing. But there may be challenges ahead before a fully-realized union is established.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Starbucks workers at an Upper Kirby store have become the first in Houston to announce plans to unionize.

It is part of a nationwide trend many didn't see coming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since December, when workers in Buffalo, New York unionized the first Starbucks store in the country, hundreds of Starbucks stores have announced similar plans.

"We're kind of expected to do the same amount of work with the same expediency with far fewer people," said Cameron Davis, who works at the store, on Shepherd Drive and Harold Street, and is organizing union efforts.

Starbucks announced plans last year to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour in August of this year.

But, those at the Upper Kirby store say the company has often cut hours when raising wages, and positions, like that of the store manager, have been left unfilled.

Hourly workers there officially announced plans to unionize after passing the threshold of 30% of their workforce signing on.

They're also being backed by the national union.

"Howard Schultz speaks very clearly that partners' voices matter and having that communication with the company and what's important to us as partners is what they want to hear," said employee Josh DeLeon, another organizer of the store's union effort.

"It's not taking the power, we're reclaiming the power that we've been told we have," Davis added. "This is unprecedented to Houston, but we have seen stores do this in Austin and Dallas."

Starbucks officials have repeatedly said they don't support stores unionizing.

The company sent this statement to ABC13: "We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country. 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 partner's right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process."

Just last week, the company announced closures of 16 stores across the country, including several that have unionized.

Union membership here in Texas might not get you very far.

"Texas being a right-to-work state, many unions, including our teachers unions, we do have them in the state, but they're just not as powerful or influential because of our state laws," said Dietrich von Biedenfeld, assistant professor of business law at UHD. "The expense of trying to pursue claims against your employer is going to be prohibitive."

Employees at the Upper Kirby store plan to hold elections within the next month.

"When you work for a corporation this big, they need to know to make it work and make it happen," Davis said.

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