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Niskayuna Starbucks becomes latest location to unionize

CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In a landslide 15-1 vote, the Niskayuna Starbucks located in ShopRite Plaza now becomes the next local store to pass a union election. Co-organizer and supervisor, Jordan Perez, says change may not come right away, but it’s a relieving step in the right direction.

“I just want everything to be civil the way it’s supposed to be and just for all of us little guys to have some sort of say in what happens to us,” Perez says to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

There will be additional union votes coming throughout August to Starbucks in Malta, Clifton Park, East Greenbush, and Crossgates Mall. However, even those that have successfully passed their votes say business is still as usual.

“As far as I’m aware, Starbucks has not come to the negotiating table with any unionized store, even those that passed in late 2021 so nothing much has changed,” explains James Schenk a Starbucks shift supervisor and Union representative at the Latham store which passed its vote in May.

“The first contract is the hardest, and I do understand that it is a long process and fairly standard, but I would have expected to have seen a larger effort made by Starbucks to begin bargaining. It’s hard when you’re going against this multimillion-dollar company that has endless legal resources to draw out the process,” he goes on to say.

Advocates at Workers United are not only helping these stores organize, they also add they’re helping workers fight back against alleged retaliation to union efforts.

“They’ve had a lot of partners who been basically forced out, either through forced leave of absences where they’re put out indefinitely with no return to work date. Some of them ended up leaving because of the management cracking down so incredibly hard on them, writing them up for the most minor of infractions,” explains Workers United Albany District Director Emily Vick.

Legal expert Don Chesworth, a partner at Tully Rinckey Attorneys and Counselors at Law, reminds all workers across the nation there are federal employment protections through the National Labor Relations Board.

“The employer should be doing nothing to interfere with their right to organize. They should not be in any way disciplined for that, but they’ve also got to understand they can’t be doing union stuff during working hours,” Chesworth explains. “Make sure you do your union activity after work or before work or during a documented break or lunch period.”

He adds the best defense in case of a wrongful termination claim is to have impeccable notes.

“A firing is certainly an obvious fact that is easily proven or disproven, but a person should be documenting everything they consider suspect of retaliation. If they can show that other people have done the same thing and not been disciplined for it, then they may have an opportunity to [make a claim],” he explains.

Vick credits the pandemic for opening eyes on just how much people — particularly in the service industry — struggle and without fair compensation.

“So many of these partners who were called ‘essential workers’ and ‘heroes’ and everything else people were saying at the time, but they were forced into some pretty dangerous situations with chronic understaffing. There were people being overworked and people not feeling safe in their workplace because employers would not let them enforce mask mandates,” Vick explains.

“There are options here, rather than just having to quit a job because you don’t like where you’re working, you can actually work to make a better job and something that works for everybody,” she further says.

“I want to see guaranteed hours based on what’s agreed on at hiring time, because often a person is hired expecting 25 to 30 hours but is only scheduled in the teens,” adds Schenk. “Another big one is adjusting compensation for the cost of living, inflation and for the growth of the company. Starbucks is reporting gains year after year, but I shouldn’t be forced into accepting a six percent raise when inflation is eight percent. Essentially taking a two percent pay cut when gas and groceries and everything else to live is so high.”

Chesworth also adds his own sage advice from his experience working as the Superintendent of the New York State police in the 80s. While he says there’s nothing stopping companies from encouraging other options besides unions, there are benefits unions offer to both sides.

“I had a very strong [Police Benevolent Association] union representing the troopers and they were extremely helpful, so it’s one of those things where the union can be very beneficial to not only the employee, but the employer,” he says.

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