KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Starbucks on Merchants Drive is now a union shop — for now. The store became the coffee chain’s ninth to unionize and the first store in the Southeast but a disputed ballot could sway the vote.
The National Labor Relations Board said the 16 employees narrowly voted for the change by a vote of 8-7. A 16th vote is being disputed by corporate representatives. A no vote would keep the shop from becoming unionized.
Maggie Carter, a leader from the organizing committee in Knoxville, said the vote is a victory for the employees and she hopes it leads to Starbucks signing the a series of eight fair election principles for other coffee shops that are seeking to unionize.
“Despite all of corporate’s aggressive union-busting tactics throughout this entire campaign, thankfully worker’s rights here in Knoxville have prevailed,” Carter said. “We are carving our path to a successful partnership with this company that we truly adore, and it’s taken a lot of patience and perseverance to get to this moment. This company can do so much better for us, and we can’t wait to show the entire country exactly what that looks like.”
Workers have asked former CEO Kevin Johnson, and interim CEO Howard Schultz, to adopt the principles and have yet to hear a response.
Five Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York; two stores in Mesa, Arizona; and one store in Seattle have agreed to unionize.
“It is very meaningful that this is the first Starbucks to unionize in the South,” said Claire Dickerson, a leader from the Montvue store in Knoxville. “Starbucks Workers United encompasses workers across the country, and we are proving it is just as possible to organize in Tennessee as in New York.”
Seven employees were fired in February from a Memphis Starbucks for safety and security policy violations according to the Seattle-based company. The union Starbucks Workers United said at the time it was a blatant act of union-busting and retaliation.
More than 160 stores have filed union petitions across 27 states with the Starbucks Workers United Movement. Two other stores in Tennessee are holding votes next month. The Montvue store in Knoxville will count ballots May 26. The Murfreesboro store’s vote count will follow on May 27.