More than Partners

Workers at three Starbucks stores in Eugene want to be more than just ‘partners’ and are starting unionizing efforts

On Jan. 31, workers at three Eugene Starbucks stores are serving more than lattes. They’re serving letters to corporate leadership about their intent to form a union. 

According to the pro Starbucks union Twitter account @SBWorkersUnited, workers at three Eugene locations have sent letters to Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson, saying they are filing for a union election. The stores where workers are starting the unionizing process are at 7th and Washington, Oakway Center, and Franklin and Villard. 

In letters addressed to Johnson from each of the three stores, the workers reference their job titles — “partners” — as a reason for their unionizing efforts and why they want a seat at the bargaining table. 

Workers at the 7th and Washington store write that they envision a “true partnership with an actual seat at the table, and we ask that you respect our decision while we work side by side with you, not against you.” 

The 7th and Washington workers say their store faces unique challenges that its corporate training and solutions do not accommodate. The company has told them to “act with courage and challenge the status quo,” the letter adds, but doesn’t allow the store to make decisions about its individual store operations, “how our workers are treated, and how we, as individual human beings, can respond to our store’s unique mental health struggles and physical safety issues.” 

Although the store’s letter doesn’t specify the safety issues workers there face, it is located near the city’s largest homeless campsite at Washington Jefferson Park. 

Workers at the Oakway Center Starbucks store tell the corporation that their union is composed of all types of people with a variety of needs, concerns and ideas that could improve the company. “We intend to create the ‘partnership’ we have been promised, and we would hope that those who have set that standard, would want their workers to try and uphold it to their best ability.” 

The letter adds that the Oakway Center workers ask for Starbucks to recognize and respect their unionizing effort so they can be properly represented. 

 Workers at the Franklin and Villard store, located near the University of Oregon’s main campus, refer to the irony of their “partner” work titles, and the lack of a living wage in their letter to Johnson. “Partners are an essential part of the Starbucks experience, and yet we see significantly less benefits for our work as we put our lives on the line every day to serve our customers and earn profits for shareholders and executives,” they write. 

The workers at Franklin and Villard say that they believe there should be equitable pay for all partners and that they all deserve to earn a livable wage. “We believe that partners should be empowered to protect their health, both physical and mental, in the workplace,” the letter adds. The writers say that the best pathway to achieving better safety for workers and workload is through a union. 

The efforts at these three Starbucks stores join those of the workers at 29th and Willamette, the first store in Oregon to begin unionizing. Ky Fireside, a worker at that store, previously told Eugene Weekly that they started the unionizing process not for a specific reason but to be more involved in how their workplace operates. 

Like the Eugene workers who wrote the letters to Starbucks’ CEO and president, Fireside said that they were disheartened to see how the corporation had tried to intervene in unionizing in Buffalo, New York. But that alleged union-busting practices is what inspired Fireside and their coworkers, as well as the other Eugene stores’ workers based on the letters, to unionize. 

“We’ve been inspired by the hard work of partners in Buffalo and across the country, who have shown that unionizing is a worthy cause and that the ability for workers to speak as one is the most powerful tool we have,” write workers at the Franklin and Villard store in their letter to the Starbucks CEO.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to EW, but previously said it believes that “we are better together as partners, without a union between us at Starbucks.”