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General News / IPBS

Clarksville Starbucks files to unionize, first to do so in Indiana

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(Mary Floreani, Staff Organizer)

Employees at a Starbucks in Clarksville have filed to unionize, making the store the first in the state to do so.

Tuesday’s filing is part of a national push by Starbucks employees to unionize their stores, as workers say they want more of a voice when it comes to company decisions.

“It’s been a whirlwind, for sure,” Aaron Crouse, a shift manager at the store, said in a phone interview.

The decision was nearly unanimous, according to Crouse, with only a few employees wishing to remain neutral.

He said those who voted to unionize are pushing for better pay and protections, including extra compensation for employees who are working at stores that are severely understaffed.

The store delivered a letter to Starbucks demanding union recognition. It outlines experiences of “unprecedented mistreatment and a callous disregard for labor law.”

Crouse recalled an experience of a coworker being fired unexpectedly, which prevented the worker from paying for college.

“It’s something that just really struck a nerve and hit close to home,” Crouse said. “I wanted to do my part to make sure it didn’t happen to anybody else.”

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint in federal court against Starbucks for committing unfair labor practices and trying to stop unionization efforts, saying Starbucks unlawfully fired seven employees in a Memphis store for exercising their right to form a union.

“Any claims of union busting are categorically false,” Starbucks said in a statement. The company said it has fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB, and that it will bargain in good faith with the stores that have chosen to unionize.

Joseph Varga, associate professor of Labor Studies at Indiana University, said Starbucks provides a generous benefits package for employees that includes healthcare, but disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have many employees rethinking their workplaces.

“I’m calling it the ‘Great Refusal,’” Varga said. “I think we’re in a period where people are sort of refusing to go back to business as usual.”

One hundred two Starbucks stores have won their union elections, with an overall 87 percent success rate, according to More Perfect Union.

Crouse is optimistic about his store’s chances of success. He says employees will be voting soon on whether to unionize.