On July 6, the Starbucks at University Boulevard and Euclid Avenue voted to unionize and won the vote according to reporter Megan Myscofski from Arizona Public Media. This Starbucks location adds to the 180+ stores that have been unionized on the heels of a national movement headed by Starbucks Workers United.
It’s about time corporations start supporting their employees by increasing their pay, work benefits, hours and more. The Tucson Starbucks employees’ decision to unionize is a step in the right direction.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a labor union is, “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions.” This negotiation process is called collective bargaining and it gives employees power against employers who try to take advantage of them. Unions apply the philosophy of strength in numbers to even the playing field with Corporate America and other big firms.
According to a report by the Joint Economic Committee Democrats, union employees earn 10.2% more than their non-union coworkers. Unions also have done their part in narrowing economic disparities amongst genders and races. Added benefits of being a union employee according to the same report are that union employees have more control over their work schedules as well as better health insurance (union employees are 18.3% more likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance). Unions are advocates for union employees, and they make sure to keep management in line whenever they try to take advantage of their workers.
The rate of unionization has grown greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the poor treatment frontline workers endured by big companies like Amazon and Walmart. It’s tragic to see that it took a global pandemic to expose the poor working conditions these frontline workers endure and force these companies to look past profit and shareholder interest. Mistreatment is still prevalent in the workplace and instead of coming up with ways to compromise with employees, companies like Starbucks continue to antagonize its employees and find ways to squeeze out the employees who vocalize the mistreatment (union busting).
As detailed by Insider reporter Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert, employees from a Phoenix Starbucks have described the retaliation they’ve faced as a union employee: cut hours, write-ups, denied accommodations and even blatant disrespect. Such treatment of union employees highlights the fear establishments have of the power of unions and the capabilities they have to create change in the workplace.
There are a few valid concerns that come with the establishment of unions, however. First off, unions can create an environment of tension and hostility between union employees and management that can hinder the productivity of the workplace. Since unions serve as a middle man of sorts between union employees and management, it makes it hard for the two to develop trust in one another. Unions have a negative association with creating trouble for management while employees may view management as an obstacle in their lives.
When establishments give in to demands — for example, increasing wages — those managerial changes lead to increased management costs and higher prices for consumers. And as consumers, when something gets too expensive, we find an alternative.
Firing union employees is also very difficult to do. As explained by HR Exchange writer Mason Stevenson, there are specific guidelines for firing union employees which can lead to establishments being unable to fire an incompetent employee or promote a competent employee due to the seniority aspect of unions.
What the employees of the Tucson Starbucks did was very brave. They are putting themselves in danger of retaliation from Starbucks management which could very much lead to them losing their jobs. It's our responsibility as customers to show support for the employees of Starbucks by continuing to give our business there.
There are also other forms of support that we as customers can show for Starbucks employees. If you wish not to directly support the Starbucks company, you can contribute to the Starbucks Workers Fund, which is a fund that supports unionized employees who’ve either had their hours cut, been fired or have had their stores shut down as explained by Truth Out writer Michael M. Santiago. Keeping yourself updated and spreading the news of the unionization movement whether by word-of-mouth or through social media can do wonders. Just like how employees have bargaining power over their labor, we have bargaining power over where we take our business.
It’s very likely that prices will increase due to the unionization, but this shouldn’t deter us from still purchasing our Frappuccinos or iced coffees there. We have the opportunity to help show these big corporations like Starbucks that consumers support unionized stores and will continue to support them no matter the pressures and anti-union tactics waged against unionized workers.
Like with any issue, it’s important for one to conduct research in order to truly understand the extent and impact the issue has on the world. After endless reports of employee mistreatment from a variety of Starbucks stores and the company's response to the threat of unionization in their stores, it’s clear that a change needs to be made.
There are many university students or people around my age that work tirelessly in these places – and this movement matters to them. Whether it be to put themselves through college or to simply live their lives, every person deserves to be recognized in the workplace as a person instead of just labor.
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Tereza Rascon (she/her) is a senior majoring in English. She enjoys reading, writing and watching the latest movies and shows.