Workers at Starbucks’ Michigan Avenue roastery file for union vote

The operation has more than 200 employees and the vote will determine if they can bargain a contract as an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

SHARE Workers at Starbucks’ Michigan Avenue roastery file for union vote
A worker at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery ion Michigan Avenue in 2019.

A worker at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Michigan Avenue in 2019.

Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

The union fishing for Starbucks locations to sign up may be landing “the big one” in Chicago.

Workers at the giant Starbucks Reserve Roastery, 646 N. Michigan Ave., have filed for a union representation election. The announcement came Friday from Starbucks Workers United, part of the Service Employees International Union.

The union said the roastery has more than 200 employees. The 35,000-square-foot location is the largest Starbucks, a five-story edition of retail showmanship that opened in 2019.

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The filing with the National Labor Relations board contains signed cards from employees calling for a vote on union affiliation. The proposed bargaining unit would include operation leads, full- and part-time baristas, mixologists and bakers, the union said.

The union said a supermajority of employees signed cards. Labor organizations typically don’t file with the NLRB unless they demonstrate strong support.

Starbucks, which calls employees “partners,” said, “As a company, we believe that our relationship as partners is core to the culture and experiences we create in our stores. To that end, wherever we can quickly and broadly improve partner benefits and perks, our history demonstrates we have.”

The company said roastery employees earn $18.75 to $30.25 per hour based on job and tenure. It said it welcomes a secret-ballot election.

The workers have accused Starbucks of providing substandard pay and unsafe working conditions and argued that some supervisors have been abusive.

“We are tired of seeing our coworkers burnt out, bullied, and mistreated everyday,” said Jamie Williamson, operations lead at the Chicago roastery, in a statement issued by the union. “I love my job, I love my coworkers, and I love the people we serve. I know we all deserve to experience the Roastery the way it should be — as a space where everyone feels welcome, appreciated, and valued.”

In another union statement, Kyra Supnet, barista and mixologist at the roastery for a year, said, “Yes, we are the largest Starbucks with the largest number of partners that work here. Getting everyone together seemed impossible at first, but when you zoom out and see the bigger picture — you realize that everyone shares the same issues.”

If the workers unionize, they will join colleagues at the other two Starbucks roasteries in North America. Employees at the locations in Seattle and New York joined the union in April 2022.

SEIU has led a national campaign to unionize Starbucks retail locations across the country. More than 330 stores now have a unionized staff, but none has gotten a first contract. Starbucks has around 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States.

A count kept by the group More Perfect Union finds that 15 Chicago-area Starbucks stores have voted to unionize while four have voted against it. The total does not include an Edgewater store that unionized and was subsequently closed.

The union and Starbucks have been enmeshed in fights over alleged unfair labor practices, including firings of pro-union workers. The NLRB, which oversees union drives, said Friday it has issued 100 complaints totaling 357 charges against Starbucks or Siren Retail, the company affiliate that handles the roasteries.

The NLRB could schedule an election by roastery staff in a few weeks.

The roastery, which took over an old Crate & Barrel, blends artisanal brews with specialty snacks. Customers can watch roasted coffee beans move in pipes above their heads to their designated serving station.

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