First metro Starbucks store votes to unionize, more to vote soon

ATLANTA — Employees at an Atlanta Starbucks location became the first in metro Atlanta to vote to form a union.

More Georgia Starbucks employees will cast similar votes in the coming days.

Employees at the Howell Mill location voted Monday and approved a union overwhelmingly 10 to 1.

How that union will change things for employees remains to be seen. The Starbucks unions are brand new; the first in the country was just a few months ago

Amanda Rivera told Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray that working at Starbucks is more than a job: coffee is her passion.

“When people walk in they want you to know their names, they want you to know what they drink. I ask about their children,” Rivera said.

But even after working for more than a decade for the company, Rivera said she still has to work two jobs to pay the bills.

“Inflation is really high and what it comes down to is the people kind of working lowest on the totem pole get forgotten,” Rivera said.

That’s why in the past six months more than 100 Starbucks locations have voted to form a union. It’s still just a fraction of the coffee giant’s nearly 9,000 U.S. locations.

In a Monday vote, this Howell Mill store became the first in Atlanta to vote to unionize. Four Georgia stores have petitioned the National Labor Relations Board about a union.

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We sat down with the local employees leading the effort.

“The story of me with Starbucks has always been me having to go without,” Starbucks employee Page Smith said.

Starbucks counters that it offers health care coverage, college tuition reimbursement and starting in August, pay raises to $15 an hour.

Smith thinks that is a direct result of the union fight.

“Even without having a contract yet, we are seeing improvements,” Smith said.

Just last week, Starbucks announced it is closing an upstate New York location that formed a union. Union supporters believe it is retaliation.

The company told Gray that it opposes the union effort, writing:

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed.”

“Starbucks does offer a lot of really great benefits, but how great is a benefit is you can’t afford to use it. You can’t afford to go to the doctor,” Rivera said.

The Ansley Mall location votes on a union later this month. Starbucks tells us it has invested $1 billion in new training and raises for employees this year.

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