News and Commentary

Starbucks Workers In Buffalo Unionize, Placing Executives On Edge Amid Labor Shortage

   DailyWire.com
Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A Starbucks coffee shop in Buffalo, New York, became the first in the nation to unionize — placing pressure on a national chain already beleaguered by labor shortages.

The New York Times reported:

Workers at one Buffalo-area Starbucks store have voted to form a union, according to results announced by the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday. Workers at a second store in the area voted against unionizing, according to the board, though a union lawyer contended that some ballots had been delivered to the agency and not counted. The union was leading in an election at a third store, but by a margin smaller than the number of ballots that were being challenged by the union. The challenges must be resolved by the agency’s regional director in the coming days or weeks before there is a result.

Over the past several months, the unionization efforts have given headaches to company leadership:

Starbucks responded to the union campaign with a sense of urgency. Throughout the fall, out-of-town managers and executives — even the company’s president of retail for North America — converged on stores in Buffalo, where they questioned employees about operational challenges and assisted in menial tasks like cleaning bathrooms…

Several workers who support the union said they found the presence of these officials intimidating and, at times, surreal. They also complained that Starbucks had temporarily closed certain stores in the area, which they found disruptive, and said Starbucks had excessively added staff in at least one of the three stores that held elections. The workers said this had diluted support for unionization at the store.

Many of the workers who voted in favor of unionization cited understaffing and poor training — a problem affecting virtually every labor-intensive industry in the United States. The Department of Labor’s most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), which analyzes data from October, revealed that there are over 11 million job openings in the United States — exceeding the number of people actively searching for work by 3.6 million.

To circumvent the persistent labor shortages, Starbucks recently began testing a cashier-less coffee shop in Manhattan enabled by Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology.

“We designed this experience to fit people’s needs as they go about their day,” explained Amazon physical retail vice president Dilip Kumar. “Sometimes you’re in a hurry, some days you have more time.”

McDonald’s is likewise developing cashier-less stores. The fast-food giant partnered with IBM to automate its restaurants via artificial intelligence that can understand spoken drive-thru orders.

“In my mind, IBM is the ideal partner for McDonald’s given their expertise in building AI-powered customer care solutions and voice recognition,” McDonald’s chief executive Chris Kempczinski said during a recent earnings call.

Many point to federal stimulus programs as a contributing factor to low labor market participation. In an August interview with The Daily Wire, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) — the Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for deliberating taxes and other fiscal policy measures — implicated the Child Tax Credits as one such program.

“For the first time, it is divorced from work. That’s not a requirement for getting it, and so you’re seeing this barrier begin to impact businesses starting last week,” Brady said. “I think the point here is that the federal government is sending a seemingly never-ending supply of checks, regardless of whether you work or not. You’re going to have economic problems, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

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