Cottonwood Heights Starbucks employees are the first to unionize in Utah

On Friday, baristas at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights officially became the first store to unionize in Utah, joining a growing labor movement of more than 100 organized Starbucks locations nationwide.

After sending out ballots last month, the workers’ vote was certified by the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, with an 11-6 margin.

“I am so happy that we are officially joining this larger national movement,” Jacob Lawson, a barista and shift supervisor who organized the effort, told Deseret News. “You know, Buffalo, New York, they were at the forefront. … But now that we are at this stage, we are at exactly the same stage as them, and we can all contribute to the movement in the same way that Buffalo did in the very beginning.

Two Buffalo stores successfully unionized last December and nearly 300 filed in their wake. Since December, nearly 150 stores in 29 states have won union elections on Friday afternoon, according to More Perfect Union.

“We are proud to win,” members of the base organizing committee said in a statement. “We are standing. … Unions are not a band-aid for bad bosses but a fundamental expression of workplace democracy. Democracy hangs by a thread. Our vote today strengthens our country by leading by example. It’s a shame that our business leaders see us as a threat.

Cottonwood Heights workers will take a few months to “(come) together” before beginning the collective bargaining process, according to Lawson, after which they will work with Workers United International Union to negotiate wages and benefits.

Lawson previously told the Deseret News that workers planned to push for higher wages to keep up with inflation and better working conditions for staff – after a 63-year-old barista alleged he had been discriminated against on the basis of age.

Starbucks shift manager Jacob Lawson marks the votes for or against unionization as they are counted by the National Labor Relations Board during a Zoom meeting at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights on Friday, June 10, 2022 The majority of staff voted in favor of unionizing, with a final tally of 11 votes in favor and six votes against.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The calm before the storm

On Friday, a handful of furloughed employees huddled around a laptop screen in the store to watch the proceedings via Zoom. As the ballots were read, Lawson counted the “yes” and “no” on a chart.

Cheers erupted when the results were final, workers cheered and toasted each other with fizzy soda.

“We’re standing up for ourselves and I believe we’re fighting for our rights,” Lawson said. “We say we are not cogs in a machine and deserve better treatment. … We did it.”

Barista Victoria Cline said that although she has another job and doesn’t need the benefits, she supported the move because of how her colleagues welcomed her to the team as a new rookie in April.

“I voted yes for them,” she said. “I’m proud and I’m very happy for Jacob and for all the other partners who are looking forward to having a union and being able to have their voices heard.”

Still, Lawson said he knows there’s still a lot of work to do and he doesn’t plan to rest on his laurels. In addition to finalizing a contract, he is actively working to support other local stores that want to unionize, including workers at the store on 400 South in Salt Lake City, who filed their paperwork in May.

“I’ve spoken with other stores before, and I think they were waiting and needed that nudge to see that we’re serious about unionization,” Lawson said. “Now that it’s official, I think it’s going to send shockwaves.”

He expects to see more union-busting efforts at stores that have yet to file paperwork, as companies are more regulated in what they can say once a store is actively working to unionize.

If anything, Lawson said he hopes their success will be a beacon that it can be done even in states that aren’t union-friendly.

“Utah is one of the most conservative states, and we continue to win in conservative states,” he said. “The labor movement is alive in the South and it’s alive here. We’re at the start here in Utah, but I don’t think it ends with us.

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Starbucks barista Victoria Cline speaks about the outcome of a union vote at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights on Friday, June 10, 2022. The majority of staff voted to unionize, with a final tally of 11 votes in favor and six votes against .

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


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