California is now home to two unionized Starbucks stores

Starbucks logo on store window
Workers at two Starbucks stores in Santa Cruz voted overwhelmingly to join a union, becoming the first locations of the coffee giant in California to unionize.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Share via

Workers at two Starbucks stores in Santa Cruz have unionized, becoming the first stores in California to join the ballooning ranks of the coffee giant’s organized baristas and shift supervisors.

Workers at both Santa Cruz stores voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the national union, called Workers United. Thirteen workers at the store by the intersection of Ocean and Water streets voted in favor of the union, with one voting against. At the Starbucks location on Mission and Dufour streets, 15 voted for and two against.

For the record:

8:50 a.m. May 12, 2022An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the National Labor Relations Board tallied union votes on Tuesday and that union organizers held a video news conference on Thursday. Both events occurred Wednesday.

The wins, tallied Wednesday, have added to the momentum of a union campaign that went public in late August and reversed decades of failed attempts to form unions at Starbucks. They come as workers at well over 200 Starbucks stores have filed petitions for union elections. Workers at 63 Starbucks stores have voted to join Workers United, according to a Workers United representative.


“Let the floodgates open in California,” Casey Moore, a spokesperson and organizer with Workers United, said at a video news conference Wednesday.

The Ocean and Water location filed its original union petition Jan. 21. The Mission and Dufour store followed soon after, with workers announcing their union campaign at the end of that month.

Emily Wheeler, a shift supervisor at the Mission and Dufour location, said she and others at the store had passively discussed joining the union drive, but the announcement of the campaign at the Ocean and Water location was the “final push” they needed.

Employees at both locations are students or young workers, according to Joseph Thompson, a shift supervisor at the Ocean and Water Starbucks who led organizing efforts at his store and across the state.

“Young people are leading the fight to unionize their workplaces because our future is predicated on building working-class power,” Thompson said in an emailed statement.

Santa Cruz workers said they were driven to pursue unionizing for numerous reasons. They cited incidents of harassment, indecent exposure and threats of violence — particularly at the Ocean and Water location — and what they describe as little to no support from management or corporate executives. They expressed desire for higher wages because of Santa Cruz’s high cost of living and more robust staffing, or additional compensation for working while short-staffed.


Kayla Cabral, a barista at the Ocean and Water store, said that through a union, the staff hopes to negotiate higher wages to “just be able to live in this city and not struggle to feed myself or drive around the city.”

Starbucks workers in Santa Cruz filed a union petition on Friday, joining coffee-chain workers elsewhere in the country trying to organize.

Jan. 21, 2022

On the video news conference, Thompson called their Starbucks location “one of the worst stores to work at across California.”

Starbucks spokesperson Sarah Albanesi said previously she did not have enough information to respond to specific issues at the store and said the company is “listening and learning.”

Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.

Starbucks has repeatedly said it opposes a union, telling employees that the company prefers addressing their needs directly.

Workers have accused the company of unlawful behavior in response to the union campaigns. The National Labor Relations Board found merit in some of these accusations, such as charges that the company fired employees in retaliation for supporting the union, enacted new and stricter requirements in order for workers to remain employed at a unionized store without negotiating with the bargaining store, and engaged in surveillance of workers.

Workers United filed charges with the NLRB in March accusing Starbucks of unlawful behavior at both Santa Cruz locations. The company greatly increased the presence of high-level managers at the stores shortly after workers announced their intent to form a union and threatened they would lose benefits if they unionized, such as the ability to work at various Starbucks locations, the union alleged.


Thompson, who recently launched a campaign to represent California’s 28th Assembly District, said at the news conference that workers are planning to organize a statewide committee to help lead bargaining efforts among the various California stores. The goal, Thompson said, was to negotiate together on broad issues such as wages and job security while maintaining separate bargaining units focused on the needs at specific locations — for example, security guards for stores with high rates of harassment or violence.

Ballots from union elections at two more California stores, both in Los Angeles County, are scheduled to be counted Friday.

Starbucks baristas nationwide have scored unionization successes, and the company is fighting back

April 24, 2022