Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
January 19, 2023
Over the past year, numerous media outlets have gushed over a purported “surge” in unionization. Given these stories, one might assume that unions are spreading like wildfire. The U.S. Chamber has written about why that’s not the case, but recent data from the campaign to organize Starbucks only further illustrates that, if there had been a wave, it seems to have crested.
Initially, the union effort at Starbucks (meant to look organic under the banner of “Workers United” but actually led by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU) got off to a fast start. In March of 2022, 69 organizing petitions were filed at individual Starbucks locations. By December, however, this had tapered off to just 11 and has fallen further since.
In total, 358 petitions have been filed as of January 2023, which may sound impressive. But this represents just 3% or so of Starbucks’ 9,000 company-owned stores. Moreover, among those locations that voted in favor of a union (258 total), not a single one has negotiated a contract. This is not for lack of interest by the company. In fact, last fall Starbucks sent a request to Workers United asking them to commence collective bargaining.
Contract negotiations have started at a few locations, but the process has been slowed by the union insisting on conducting talks via Zoom, seeking to include undisclosed individuals in the discussions, and posting negotiations on social media, to which the company has naturally objected. Thus, rather than seeing actual bargaining sessions at the roughly 80 stores where talks had been scheduled, the union is now subject to 80 unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), all of which will slow the process further.
In the meantime, in at least one case, Starbucks workers have filed a decertification petition — used by employees to remove an unwanted union. This petition was subsequently dismissed by the NLRB, but it may be a warning sign.
None of this should be surprising. As the U.S. Chamber noted in an earlier article, 2022 wouldn’t be the first time the media has mistakenly characterized a small uptick in union activity as a wave – but somehow that alleged wave always crests too early and inevitably recedes.
About the authors
Spencer oversees the Chamber’s work on immigration, retirement security, traditional labor relations, human trafficking, wage hour and worker safety issues, EEOC matters, and state labor and employment law.