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Why Starbucks workers want to unionize over 50 stores in the U.S.

SBWorkersUnited Leader Ky Fireside joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the reasons why Starbucks workers are advocating to unionize across 50+ stores, including wages and COVID-19 safety policies.

Video Transcript

- A growing number of Starbucks stores are filing for unionization across the US, with now over 50 stores petitioning to unionize. Here now is Yahoo! Finance's Dani Romero, who's joined by a Starbucks employee. Dani?

DANI ROMERO: Thanks, Alexis. And like you said, we are joined by Kai Fireside, a Starbucks barista in Eugene, Oregon, where there are now four stores that have filed for unionization. Thank you so much for joining us.

KAI FIRESIDE: Thanks for having me.

DANI ROMERO: So Kai, what are the reasons that are fueling your store, as well as the four other stores that want to unionize?

KAI FIRESIDE: I think the biggest one is that Starbucks has always called us partners, but we don't have any say in any decision the company makes at all. And we think that, unless we are able to unionize, that we will never get any sort of seat at the table.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, and going off of that-- Starbucks has made quite a few changes, right? They've hiked up some of their wages. They say that they plan on doing so again. What is the missing piece? What can Starbucks do better?

KAI FIRESIDE: Honestly, if they just had a way to listen to us, to ask us about making these decisions-- I know they say that they're raising wages, but I'm still making less than the hazard pay that they took away two years ago. They really don't consult us regarding COVID safety or any other matters of safety in the stores.

So really, we just kind of want to be able to be there and have those conversations with them. And right now, there's just no avenue for us to have those conversations with anyone at the company.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, and, Kai, you know, has your store called on Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to sign the Fair Election Principles? What is that, and why is that really important?

KAI FIRESIDE: We've done that, as has, I believe, every single store that's filed. So each store that's filed has written a letter to Kevin Johnson. Whether he's read them or not, I don't know because he's never replied to us.

But the Fair Election Principles are just a short list of ideas that say, hey, be fair with us. We're asking to unionize. Don't fight us on unionizing. Don't union bust. Don't waste a bunch of time when we're trying to just come to the table with you. Partners in Buffalo that filed in August only just now got to start having their contract talks two days ago.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, what are you most concerned about, knowing what you know what's going on in Buffalo, and obviously, now these four other stores-- now it's progressed, right? Across the country.

What are you most worried about in regards to making that-- signing-- if you do end up unionizing, what are you-- what are you thinking about? What are your concerns in regards to that?

KAI FIRESIDE: We've tried not to focus too much on individual things that we would want in the contract, just because I think that's going to deter from the ultimate goal of being able to sit down with them. That being said, the two issues that I hear the most from people are wages and COVID safety.

DANI ROMERO: And I guess, why are we seeing a younger generation really move toward unionization? I think that's an interesting side of this as well.

KAI FIRESIDE: It is. I don't know if I'm young enough to comment on that. There are a lot of people at our store that are in their 30s. You know, this isn't a job that's staffed by a bunch of teenagers, although we do have some of those as well.

I think that we're really acutely aware of the fight that the labor movement has had over the last 100 years. And we don't want to lose any of the ground that our predecessors gained. And we've seen that with right to work and everything else that's come along since the first big labor movement. We see these incremental losses, and we don't want to see that anymore. We want to get back to a point where workers are stronger. And we have a huge workforce. Our strength is our numbers.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, and to wrap up really quickly, you know, last year, Starbucks opened their first cashier-less café in New York City. Are you concerned that the company could move more in that direction following the big union push that's going on?

KAI FIRESIDE: I'm not terribly concerned about that because the company focuses so much on us making connections with customers. And we do have one store in our district that is a similar model. It's mostly online ordering, and people come and pick it up. And we-- we haven't seen that that's negatively impacted us at all.

DANI ROMERO: Well, thank you so much, Kai. That was Kai Fireside, a Starbucks barista in Eugene, Oregon. And I'm going to toss it back to Alexis.

- All right. Thanks a lot, Dani Romero. We appreciate that conversation.