Long Beach, Lakewood Starbucks stores become first to unionize in Southern California

A Starbucks store in Long Beach and another in Lakewood have successfully voted to unionize, becoming the first stores to do so in Southern California. They have joined two stores in Santa Cruz, which voted to unionize on Wednesday, to be among the first across the state.

Starbucks baristas gathered on Friday to watch over Zoom as a member of the National Labor Relations Board tallied their votes. They had been anticipating this moment since they filed their petition on March 7.

Cheers rang out as the votes came in overwhelmingly in favor of a union. At the Long Beach location on Redondo Avenue and Seventh Street, employees voted 13 to 0. At the Lakewood store on 4833 Candlewood St. near Lakewood Boulevard, 24 voted in favor of a union; there was only 1 no vote. The two stores are joining Workers United as part of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.

The two stores have joined a list of 66 across the country that have successfully voted to unionize. In California, 20 stores have petitioned to unionize and across the country over 250 stores have filed petitions to host union elections since August, according to NLRB officials.

Prior to the vote, workers at the Long Beach location voiced frustrations about being underpaid, understaffed and feeling overworked. Other top complaints included unfair scheduling and inadequate COVID-19 policies.

To Josie Serrano, one of the lead organizers, these things seemed like the bare minimum a worldwide, billion-dollar corporation should provide.

After starting the petition process, Serrano said, employees reported the company posting flyers in break rooms designed to dissuade them from unionizing and holding required meetings, where managers would suggest that they will not qualify for specific benefits if they vote were to vote in favor of a union.

Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment about its tactics at the Long Beach store.

A young woman looks at her drink as she exits Starbucks at Seventh Street and Redondo Avenue Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

There have been accusations of unfair tactics at other stores across the country. Federal labor regulators at the NLRB filed a complaint last week accusing Starbucks of unfair labor practices, union-busting efforts, retaliation, unlawful threats and surveillance at stores in Western New York.

The Starbucks corporation has outwardly expressed its opposition to unionizing and criticized organizers for causing division among Starbucks and its employees.

Last month, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz visited the Long Beach area to hold a “collaboration session” with baristas from nearby stores, and employees left saying they felt disrespected. His visit inspired a second Long Beach store in Belmont Shore to petition for unionization.

After the meeting, Schultz wrote in a letter to Starbucks partners, “I do not believe conflict, division and dissension—which has been a focus of union organizing—benefits Starbucks or our partners.”

As a union, employees say they will work to negotiate fair contracts.

“We want to make sure that we’re setting up a foundation for a better Starbucks, not just for ourselves, but for partners that are coming in,” said Serrano.

How 2 baristas’ secret meetings brought the Starbucks union drive to Long Beach

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Laura Anaya-Morga is a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post.
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