Employees at this Starbucks have filed to unionize.

A nationwide movement that began a year ago is now in Evanston.

On Dec. 9, 2021, employees at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, became the first workers in the huge coffee chain to win a union authorization election.

Now, the baristas at the Main Street Starbucks in Evanston are hoping to do the same thing, with the same union, Starbucks Workers United.

Ashley Graham, a shift supervisor at the Main Street cafe, is one of those behind the local organizing drive.

“I have decided to stand up for myself and for other baristas around the nation,” Graham tells Evanston Now.

Graham says 80% of the 14 Main Street employees have signed cards and submitted them to the National Labor Relations Board, more than enough to have an election.

Union button for Starbucks Workers United, and Starbucks logo.

The next step is for the NLRB to supervise that vote, although no date has been set as of now.

Graham says that while she “really does love where she works,” there are significant issues, such as scheduling, and income.

According to the job site Indeed.com, the average pay for a Starbucks employee in Evanston is $15.87 per hour.

Graham says staffing, or rather the lack of it, is also of major concern to the workers.

“Most of us leave work fatigued,” she says.

And while Starbucks does provide benefits, Graham notes that some employees’ hours have been reduced, so they no longer qualify.

More than 260 Starbucks locations around the country have successfully voted in unions, but that’s a small fraction of the more than 9,000 company-owned locations. In about 65 cases, unionization votes failed.

Nationally no contracts have been reached yet between Starbucks and the union, as each side has accused each other of bad faith bargaining.

In addition to the Main Street cafe, workers at one in Glenview has also filed for an NLRB election.

In response to a question from Evanston Now, a Starbucks spokesperson said, “We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country. From the beginning , we have been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. We remain committed to our partners and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone.”

Starbucks has closed about 20 stores nationwide since this summer, including one in the Central Street business district in Evanston.

Nearly half of those stores, but not the Central Street location, were in some phase of a unionization effort. Critics have accused Starbucks of shutting those unionized/unionizing cafes, including an Edgewater location in Chicago, as anti-labor retribution.

Starbucks has denied that, saying the closings were in dangerous neighborhoods where workers were not safe.

Graham says she’s “not worried, but is aware of what can happen.”

“We will have the power,” she says, “to fight back, supported by family and friends.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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