UNION ORGANIZING IN 2022: Starbucks Will Have At Least Unionized Cafes – Will Other Restaurant Workers Follow?

March 1, 2022 Update: Since the blog post below was published in January, there has been a rapid increase in the organization efforts of Starbucks workers. From January 24, 2022 to February 24, 2022, Starbucks employees filed seventy-five petitions to unionize in states across the entire country. Elections will follow to determine if the cafés will gain representation. Additionally, there were seventeen unfair labor practice charges filed within the month. Many of these charges are based on alleged violations of Sections 8(a)(1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act, where the employer allegedly unlawfully changed the terms and conditions of employment, made coercive statements, or refused to bargain in good faith. These developments continue to cause an upheaval in the restaurant industry given the traction gained by the organizing efforts of Starbucks workers across the country.

UNION ORGANIZING IN 2022:  Starbucks Will Have At Least Two Unionized Cafés – Will Other Restaurant Workers Follow?

Unions gained significant momentum in the food-and-beverage industry in 2021. While restaurants had one of the lowest unionization rates at only 1.2% in 2020, workers at some of the leading names in the industry have recently made a push for change.

Most notably, Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York voted to unionize at least two cafés. While Starbucks argued employees at all twenty stores in the Buffalo area should have been eligible to vote in a union election, the National Labor Relations Board disagreed and found that each store should be autonomous from one another in their elections. As of now, only two Starbucks cafés have unionized, while a third Buffalo café voted against the union. Similar unionization efforts have gained nationwide attention as café workers in Arizona, Boston, Seattle, Tennessee, Chicago, and Colorado have since joined the fight.

Burgerville – a Northwest fast food chain employing around 800 people at forty locations – became the first traditional “fast food” restaurant to enter into a collective bargaining agreement in the U.S.  After three years of negotiations, Burgerville and the union agreed to a contract in late 2021, which covers five locations. This is an enormous step for fast food and chain restaurant workers and sets an example for further unionization efforts as we head into 2022.

Along with these two significant wins for workers in the food-and-beverage industry, President Biden fully supports unionization of workers across the country, as he strongly endorses the pending Protecting the Right to Organize Act (“PRO Act”). Although the future of the bill is uncertain, if enacted, the PRO Act would expand various labor protections related to employees’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. It would broaden the definitions of “employee,” “supervisor,” and “employer” to cover more individuals, and would expand upon unfair labor practices to further restrict employer activities.

The Pro Act has passed in the House, but has been sitting in the Senate since March 3, 2021. If the PRO Act does pass, it likely would encourage employees in the food-and-beverage industry to pursue unionization, which would require employers to bargain with unions over their collective concerns and conditions of employment. As a precaution, employers should be mindful when dealing with workers attempting to unionize to avoid committing an unfair labor practice by unlawfully restricting or interfering with their efforts to organize. Employers also should retain experienced labor counsel to assist in formulating their labor relations strategy in light of these recent developments.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for over sixty years and are available to discuss these issues and others. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.