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Lawrence Starbucks employees to unionize

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Article updated at 10:21 a.m., photo updated at 11:59 a.m. Monday, March 28:

The workers at Starbucks at 23rd and Ousdahl in Lawrence announced Monday their intent to form a union.

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Nearly three dozen employees of the store signed a letter to the company’s interim CEO, Howard Schultz.

Workers wrote in the letter that Starbucks refers to those who wear the green apron as “partners,” but they are partners in name only, and they’re left with no other choice but to organize in order to “rebalance the scales of this relationship.”

“The name itself suggests a relationship built on a spirit of cooperation, working towards common goals, and in constant support of one another,” the letter says of the “partners” label. “We realize now that this partnership can only truly be possible through collective bargaining guaranteeing us a living wage, safer working conditions, stability of employment, and a say in our place of work.”

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They’re organizing with Workers United and Starbucks Workers United, according to the letter. The letter says they want to improve the quality of life and work life for all their store employees, including managers, shift managers and baristas.

The workers also addressed the Lawrence community.

“To our neighbors in Lawrence, know that we do this to improve our community, our place of work, and our country,” the workers wrote. “We love our city, just as you do. We demand that Starbucks, an out of state corporation, pay the workers it employs in our community a living wage. We ask that you stand with us as we organize for what is right. Lawrence has a uniquely proud tradition of standing up for what is right and we will not waver from that cause.”

The workers are calling for the company to sign on to the Non-interference and Fair Election Principles for Partner Unionization, an agreement that other stores are using to ask for fair practices and a secret ballot election.

The store is among more than 140 nationwide that are in the process of unionizing. Workers at a store in Overland Park held a strike Saturday, March 19, in response to what they said are unfair working conditions and retaliation, KCUR reported.

A spokesperson for Starbucks said the company will listen to the partners at the Lawrence store, and that it wants to hear from them directly.

“We believe that as a company, we are better together in our direct relationship as partners without a third party between us,” the spokesperson said. “That has been our stance from the beginning, and that our success as a company is built on that direct relationship.”

“… We do hope to preserve that direct relationship, but we have also said that we will respect our partners’ right to organize,” the spokesperson continued. “In all the cases where there are petitions across the country, we’re fully following and honoring the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) process and respect our partners’ choice following any vote.”

Schultz and Starbucks have shut down unionization efforts in the past, but the latest movement is bigger, and it’s growing faster, than previous ones, according to a March 20 article from the Associated Press.

The article summarizes why the climate is different in the latest wave of unionization efforts: barista and organizer Jaz Brisack “said this unionizing effort is also stronger than past ones, which were thwarted by high worker turnover and resource-starved unions. Organizers now have the backing of Workers United — an arm of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union — and a union-friendly president in the White House. Brisack said the pandemic also fueled workers’ outrage,” according to the article.

There are nine Starbucks locations in Lawrence, according to the company’s online store locator. It was not immediately clear Monday whether any other stores’ workers are unionizing.

Lawrence Lowdown is a feature on developments around town. Have a tip? Let us know.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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