Grand Rapids Starbucks votes to unionize

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Starbucks employees in Grand Rapids have voted to unionize, making it the first Starbucks location in Michigan to join the growing movement in the company’s stores across the country.

The employees at the Burton and Rosemont location in southeast Grand Rapids voted 15-3 to unionize. The votes were cast via mail over the last few weeks and tallied Friday by the National Labor Relations Board.

In March, the employees notified corporate in a letter about their intention of unionizing, saying they often use broken or run-down equipment and have to remain open despite staffing shortages.

“We have been inspired by the efforts of other partners organizing across the country, from buffalo, Memphis, Ann Arbor and Phoenix,” the employees wrote. “We here at Burton and Rosemont are joining their efforts, as we have determined that unionizing would allow us to truly feel like partners.”

The Buffalo store became the first to unionize in December. Since then, dozens of locations have voted to unionize with landslide margins or even unanimously.

Malena Phanle was the Starbucks employee in Grand Rapids who led the store’s unionization efforts.

“We lost a lot of good co-workers because of the working conditions,” she told News 8 on Friday.

She said there were times they could not open the store because of broken equipment.

“I was starting to feel stuck at my job and very unhappy every time I left,” she told News 8 on Friday. “But looking at these other stores and announcing their attempts to unionize and learning what that meant, I was like, ‘Oh, there’s something I can do about this.’ I don’t have to quit my job. I can fight for better working conditions.”

Workers said they were surprised Starbucks did not ask for a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board and instead just let the employees vote. Starbucks has the legal right to request a hearing if a store petitions to vote to unionize.

“That was definitely not something we were expecting,” Phanle said. “I think they looked at the numbers of how many people signed these cards and they looked at the letter and saw that before 90% of my coworkers signed it.”

News 8 reached out to Starbucks for comment but had not received a response as of Friday evening.

With the vote passed, the next step is to sit down with Starbucks corporate and hammer out a contract.

“I would love for this to inspire other stores,” Shelby Minnema, who has worked for Starbucks for a decade, said. “It’s definitely something that is needed, especially after the pandemic that we all went through. People in the service industry were probably some of the toughest jobs during the pandemic. And a lot of our protections and extra pay have gone away in that time.”

Eleven other Starbucks locations in Michigan have filed to unionize. The Workers United Labor Union says most of those locations have votes scheduled for next month.

“We’re definitely not going to be the last (to unionize),” Phanle said. “But I hope this encourages the other stores that haven’t announced anything yet to look into unionizing because it’s a great feeling and this is the beginning of a new journey for us. It definitely makes staying here worthwhile.”

She said other Grand Rapids-area Starbucks shops are looking at filing to unionize.

“They just need a little encouragement,” she said. “And Burton and Rosemont is here for that. It’s been such a fun process. We’ve bonded so much because of this process and I’m looking forward to hearing from other stores and having them reach out.”

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