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Starbucks employees in Memphis look to unionize

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 10:17 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Starbucks employees in Memphis have joined the growing movement to unionize, and they’re getting advice from the very first Starbucks workers in the U.S. who formed a union last month.

At the Starbucks on Poplar near Highland, all 20 employees have agreed to unionize.

“I actually got this job thinking that this company was great until you get behind the lines and you see how this company actually treats people,” said shift supervisor Nikki Taylor.”

Taylor said the workers deserve better pay, including a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour. And they want better, safer working conditions, especially COVID-19 precautions, according to supervisor Beto Sanchez.

“They asked one of our partners to stay in the back even though they were throwing up, even though they were sick, which is not only against Starbucks policy, it’s against OSHA,” said Sanchez. “It’s against CDC policy. It’s against a lot of things.”

They are the first Memphis-area Starbucks to try unionizing, launching their campaign Monday on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, recognizing King’s legacy of fighting for workers’ rights on his fateful trip to the Bluff City in 1968.

“This is such a significant city for unionization and there is a little bit of pressure because we are trying to push it as fast as possible,” said employee Kylie Throckmorton.

“This isn’t just a Memphis issue,” said employee La Kota McGlawn. “It started in Buffalo and we now have at least 22 stores in 12 different states that have organized to unionize.”

The Buffalo Starbucks employees are guiding the Memphis team through the unionization process, one the Starbucks corporate office does not support.

“Everything we love most about Starbucks is thanks to partners who work directly together with care, partnership, and respect,” says Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks North America. “From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we do not want a union between us as partners, and that conviction has not changed.”

No amount of pressure from corporate, according to the Memphis workers, will change their determination to join a union.

“I do think we will be unionized, and I do feel like we’ll be heard, and they can’t silence us anymore,” employee Nabretta Hardin said.

“And as long as we stick together, we can do it and anything is possible,” said employee Florentino Escobar.

The Memphis employees are already in contact with the labor board that helped the Buffalo employees unionize last month. Taylor says she’s heard from workers at other Memphis area Starbucks who are also interested in organizing.

Starbucks officials contacted us about our story Friday, saying the company recently announced a $1B investment in wages. Company officials also provided a letter from COO John Culver with information about COVID-19 safety protocols.

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