LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Workers at a Starbucks on Factory Lane in Louisville have voted to unionize, becoming the first Kentucky location of the coffee chain to join the growing nationwide movement.
“We’re so excited,” said Fern Potter, 19, a shift supervisor and one of the principal organizers of the union effort.
In March, workers at the East End Starbucks sent a petition to the National Labor Relations Board expressing interest in unionizing. At the time, Potter said wages, health care concerns, and retirement packages were among the reasons he and his co-workers signed the petition.
On Thursday, Potter and co-workers learned they won the election 19 to 5. “Honestly, I was a little surprised that we got as many ‘No’ votes as we did,” he said.
It wasn’t difficult to convince co-workers that a union would benefit them, Potter said. Most were eager to improve wages, benefits and job security. But organizers contended with the company’s attempts to dissuade workers from voting to unionize.
“We’ve had some posters on the back doors saying, ‘We’re a family. We don’t need a third party. This union could actually be bad for you guys.’ All the stuff that’s really easily refuted, but not if you don’t know much about unions,” Potter said.
In a statement, a Starbucks spokesperson said, “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.”
Potter also said the shop’s district manager dropped by more frequently and attempted to ingratiate themselves with the workers.
“They were trying to come behind the counter and actually help, but they’re so out of touch that they actually ended up slowing us down,” he said. “For a lot of employees, it was really cringy to watch this person who clearly hasn’t made drinks in years trying to present themselves as if they’re just like us.”
A growing ‘movement’
The Louisville Starbucks is roughly the 90th in the nation to unionize since workers in Buffalo began organizing at three area stores last summer. Most of the unionized stores are in coastal states.
NPR reported this month that a surge in union elections at Starbucks stores is responsible for a 57% increase in nationwide union election in the first half of fiscal year 2022, compared to the first half of fiscal year 2021.
Potter said the movement has been driven mostly by young people who envision a better future for themselves. “The idea of unionization has been growing, especially for people of my generation,” he said. “We understand a lot of what’s going on in society and how we’re being mistreated by the powers that be.”
He hopes the efforts at the Louisville Starbucks inspire other food service workers in the city and the state.
“There’s a growing labor movement in Louisville and in America, and we hope to see this expand to many other Starbucks and many other restaurants and many other workplaces,” he said.