Crain's Detroit Business: Marick Masters on Starbucks union votes

A Starbucks store in Grand Rapids is poised to be the first in Michigan to count votes for unionization, while more than half a dozen others in the state have set election dates. Staff at Workers United are confident the vote will be in favor of unionizing. On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board authorized four stores in Ann Arbor and one each in Grand Blanc, East Lansing and Flint to hold elections. Workers United was notified that a total of 10 stores in Michigan have been approved for election dates in early June. Seattle-based Starbucks has more than 15,000 locations throughout the U.S. Since the recent wave to unionize began in December in New York, more than 50 stores have voted to unionize, while hundreds more are poised to vote soon. Employees have demanded higher wages, better working conditions, and a platform to voice worker interests. On the other side, CEO Howard Schultz has taken a strong stance against unions and said the company could not have grown into a globally famous coffee behemoth with the restraints of organized labor. The Starbucks unionization effort has the potential to rekindle the labor movement in the U.S., and organizing in Michigan, once a union stronghold, has symbolic significance, said Marick Masters, former director of Wayne State University’s labor relations department and current interim chair of the department of finance and business. “If you combine it with some recent successes that unions have had at Amazon, I think that they have the potential to be transformative in the sense of really rekindling the labor movement, but we are a long way from that type of rejuvenation.” Unionization is only half the battle, Masters said. Winning better benefits for employees will be a tough go. “There are serious challenges that the union will face in trying to represent workers at Starbucks sites,” he said. “Their management team is going to become more aggressive and sophisticated in resisting in these campaigns. They’ll resort to a whole bag of tricks to discourage workers at other sites from unionizing.”

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