Portland News

Waves of Union Efforts Among Starbucks Chains Continues with Michigan the Latest Addition

Michigan stores become the latest to join unionization efforts
Michigan stores become the latest to join unionization efforts

Since late 2021, big companies like Amazon, Google and Starbucks have seen a growing trend of workers seeking union representation. Although not all efforts have been successful, many remain determined to move forward.

Buffalo Starbucks’ organizing victory helped inspire other branches across the country to join the union, and Michigan is the latest state to join the union effort.

Over 10 Michigan Starbucks have successfully gotten union votes in just a few months. 

“I don’t want better pay for just myself, I want better pay for the guy who’s been here for 14 years and makes 10 cents more than me,” said Hannah Whitbeck, former shift supervisor at Starbucks in Ann Arbor.

Read also: Apple Store’s Union Efforts in Towson, Maryland Could Inspire Other Stores to Follow Suit

Whitbeck was instrumental in leading union work on her site, garnering enough votes in early June to be represented at Starbucks Workers United. As a result, only one broadcaster voted against the union.

“Five out of six, in a really small area, I would say is a really good deal,” said Whitbeck.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, union requests increased 57% in the first half of the fiscal year, from October 1 to March 31. But Professor Marick Masters, who teaches business administration at Wayne State University and has written extensively on labor issues, said despite measurable increases, union membership in Michigan is nowhere near what it used to be in the old days.

“In 1960, 50% of the workers in Michigan were unionized,” he revealed.

“So this is perhaps a tipping point, but it’s too early to tell whether or not this represents a sea-change in union success, either in Detroit, statewide, or nationally.”

Starbucks is not alone, as workers at Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, a Midtown coffeehouse, went on strike in February demanding better benefits, higher wages and paid sick leave.

Like many others, the cafe is pushing for a union. However, the store closed in January due to a COVID outbreak. Other people attribute the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for union efforts. Meanwhile, Hannah Whitbeck believes desire existed long before COVID and said she and her colleagues wanted to feel like they were sitting at the table.

The former regulator says the pandemic has only made concerns more evident.

In April, Whitbeck was fired from her position for leaving a bartender unattended. She claims she never received a formal warning and was only late once after a car accident. Whitbeck believes his resignation was due to his desire for union representation. She is currently working with the NLRB to restore her position.

Read also: NLRB Working to Reinstate Buffalo Starbucks Employees After Their Recent Dismissal

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.