CLEVELAND — Senator Sherrod Brown ordered his tea "union strong" Monday at the West Sixth Street Starbucks, a store whose workers are looking to become the first Starbucks in the state to unionize. Brown came to show his support and to let them know he has their back he said in their effort to be heard.
"If workers want to join a union they should be allowed to,” Brown said. “Because most people in this country most workers understand a union card gives them something. It gives them a voice in the workplace, it gives them more flexibility in their schedule and it earns them better wages and better working conditions and better benefits."
The nationwide effort started late last year in Buffalo and inspired employee Joe Nappi to follow suit in Cleveland, getting the process started themselves last month amazed at how quickly the effort has spread across the country.
“When we filed there was less than 20 stores that had filed now it's over I think 70 in about 24 states,” Nappi said. “It's incredible the speed that this has picked up, that all of these baristas are finally realizing that they deserve a seat at the table."
Nappi said they were able to collect the signatures of 18 of the 20 employees at this location. They had their hearing last week with the National Labor Relations Board. “We're waiting for a decision from that and in the next few weeks we're hoping that we get our ballots sent to us."
They may end up being the first Starbucks store in Ohio to go this route but based on the calls they're getting they don't expect to be the last.
"I mean ever since we filed we've been in talks with people across our district, across Ohio,” said Starbucks employee Maddie Van Hook. “So yeah we've just been helping them in the process and hoping to hear from them soon."
Nappi and Van Hook said it wasn't anyone's complaint that drove them to this but rather the security of having a voice.
“I don't think it's anything in particular but us finally asking for a seat at the table, that's the biggest thing, we want a say in how our workplace is run,” he said.
Starbucks for its part tells News 5 they are listening to their workers in these stores, they believe they are better together without third parties involved but they respect the rights of employees to organize, and for those who choose to go that route the company will bargain in good faith.
They also pointed to the fact that the company has increased wages across its 9,000 company-owned stores by $1 billion and in the fall they increased their minimum wage to $15 an hour. Meaning their baristas make between $15 and $23 an hour.
Brown says the best way to guarantee those wages continue is to allow unions which he says benefits the company in the long run.
"The more people in this community that join unions the better this Starbucks will do because people will have more and more disposable income to be able to buy their products,” he said.