Main Street Starbucks votes 12-0 to unionize


Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer

Connor Brennan, a barista at the 519 Main St. Starbucks, places an order on the counter.

Aviva Bechky, City Editor

Employees of Evanston’s Starbucks at 519 Main St. voted 12-0 to unionize Thursday, making the location the first Starbucks in the city to unionize. 

“Hopefully the unanimous vote is a reflection of having done a very thorough job of organizing and really coming together as a unit,” said barista Connor Brennan. “It’s a huge victory.”

Employees announced their petition to unionize in December, citing concerns about understaffing and underpayment. According to CNBC, more than 300 Starbucks locations have voted on whether to unionize since December 2021, with more than 250 deciding in favor of unionization. 

The Main Street outlet currently has 13 employees, but one person, Shift Supervisor Ashley Graham, was out of town during the election. She said she was disappointed to miss the chance to vote yes but is excited to see her store join a nationwide movement.

Graham and Brennan said they’re hoping to bargain for more consistent schedules and hours, a higher starting wage and full benefits extended to all employees beginning on their first day. They also expressed concerns about understaffing at the store, with Brennan saying employees are “stretched very thin with very little room for error.”

Unionizing will give workers a greater opportunity to push Starbucks to address these issues, Brennan said.

In response to a request for comment on the vote, Starbucks Media Relations said the company opposes unionization but is also working to listen and learn from partners in unionizing stores.

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to The Daily.

For employees, Graham and Brennan said, getting Starbucks to come to the bargaining table is the next step.

So far, very few bargaining sessions between the company and local unions have occurred, which the national group Starbucks Workers United has attributed to Starbucks’ attempts to delay the process. The company has blamed the union for delays in bargaining. 

“All I can do is focus on keeping the excitement and the momentum up at my store, and the conversations and the information going, while we wait,” Graham said.

Brennan said he was especially proud of the unanimous vote in light of the upper management’s approach to the store’s unionization efforts. He said managers have held one-on-one or two-on-one meetings with employees to present misinformation about unionizing.

Starbucks has used aggressive union-busting tactics at locations nationwide, according to reporting by Slate and NPR, among other news outlets.

Regarding claims of anti-union retaliation, Starbucks Media Relations wrote, “Starbucks trains managers that no partner will be disciplined for engaging in lawful union activity and that there will be no tolerance for any unlawful anti-union behavior, if ever found to be true.”

In October, Starbucks closed its Edgewater location, which was one of the first Chicago locations to unionize. Since then, stores across the state have unionized, too.

Just last week, the Westfield Old Orchard Starbucks elected to unionize in a 10-6 vote. Tino Luna, a shift supervisor at the Old Orchard outlet, went to support his Main Street counterparts Thursday during their election.

“In terms of having another neighbor who’s unionizing? I think it’s awesome,” Luna said. “I’m hoping to keep it going.”

Camaraderie and community support proved “magical” as Main Street employees organized, according to Graham. Employees hosted a “sip-in” on Jan. 14, where they met union supporters and reassured themselves that “we’re in this for the right reasons,” she said.

Now, Graham and Brennan said they’re working to keep the fire burning as they meet members of Starbucks Workers United across the country.

“I’m really excited not for just our store, but just to join the movement as a team. There’s so many Starbucks stores that are unionizing,” Graham said. “It’s very exciting to have the backing of our community and to have the bravery and the excitement to join the fight for workers’ rights.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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