2022 | Business

Starbucks in Olney votes to unionize

Treatment of employees during pandemic was a factor, worker says

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Photo by Dan Schere

This story was updated at 11:50 a.m. on May 24, 2022, to include a statement from Starbucks’ corporate office

Joining a national trend, employees at a Starbucks in Olney voted to unionize on Friday, making it the first location in Montgomery County to do so, according to an online database.

The workers at the Starbucks on Georgia Avenue voted 9 to 4 on Friday in favor of forming the union, according to the,  Mid-Atlantic Regional Joint Board of Workers United – a union representing more than 4,000 members that work in the food service, auto supply, hospitality, gaming, apparel, retail and manufacturing industries, among others

Ian Miller, a shift supervisor at the store, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Monday that employees at the store began to grow uncertain about the future of their jobs at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 as stores  around the country closed and employees were displaced or laid off.

Miller wrote that employees were grateful to receive hazard pay while staying at home during pandemic when the infection rate was high.

“However, being pressured to either return to the workplace, or to be bought out with a severance deal, even with the pandemic still going on, affected us all,” he wrote.

Miller wrote that there are immunocompromised employees at the shop, and some who live with high-risk people.

“Even a few of us contracted symptoms and had to isolate, which stretched our already small team even thinner,” he wrote.

Nationally, Starbucks stores have been unionizing since a Buffalo, N.Y., Starbucks did so in December.

In a statement to Bethesda Beat on Tuesday, Starbucks said it “will respect the process and will bargain in good faith.”

“We hope that the union does the same,” the company said in the statement.

Starbucks said in a previous statement to Bethesda Beat that it is “listening and learning from the partners in these stores” but that the company has been “clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed.”

In his email, Miller wrote that the Olney store also unionized for similar reasons to other stores around the country.

“Our reasons align more or less with the other stores that came before us, who have had complaints about management, labor cuts, wages, treatment as workers, and the pandemic response. To give an example, my senior supervisor who has been with the company for over eight years only makes a few cents more than myself, and I’ve hardly been in my position for a year,” he wrote.

Miller wrote that at the Olney store, employees have “felt-unheard” about their concerns.

“Our manager started to give us a hard time when we would have to be isolated, or if we would get ill in general,” he wrote. “I understand having a small team and needing to step in to cover for someone who’s ill isn’t ideal, but he wouldn’t hire extra help, despite us receiving calls from potential applicants. We would hear him say he needed to hire more baristas, or an extra shift supervisor- but neither of these have happened.”

Miller also wrote that having fewer employees during busy periods prevented supervisors from being able to take breaks. Product shortages and delayed deliveries added additional stress to the Olney store’s workers.

After a discussion in February between the Olney store’s employees and their Starbucks district manager, the employees felt “written off,” according to Miller. They then decided unionization was their best option.

Miller emphasized on Monday that he did not take up the unionization effort to get anyone fired.

“I believe my manager has always tried his best to keep us partners in the best place we can be,” he wrote. “However, following the pandemic, we as workers were shown just how disposable that Starbucks as a company believed us to be.”

The Olney Starbucks is the first to unionize in Montgomery County, according to the website More Perfect Union, which tracks developments in the labor industry. The coffee shop had filed its petition on April 6 with the National Labor Relations Board. Other Maryland Starbucks that have voted to unionize include locations in Baltimore City and Linthicum.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com