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Starbucks workers at Victoria outlet vote to join Steelworkers union

Frontline workers at Starbucks in the 3100 block of Douglas Street, near Mayfair Shopping Centre, in Victoria now have the backing of the United Steelworkers as they seek better working conditions from the Seattle-based coffee giant.
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About 30 workers at a Douglas Street Starbucks — one of busiest in the city thanks in part to its drive-through — voted to join the Steelworkers union in hopes of being able to better protect their health and safety at work.

Frontline workers at Starbucks in the 3100 block of Douglas Street, near Mayfair Shopping Centre, in Victoria now have the backing of the United Steelworkers as they seek better working conditions from the Seattle-based coffee giant.

About 30 workers at the location — one of Starbucks’ busiest in the city thanks in part to its drive-through — voted to join the Steelworkers union in hopes of being able to better protect their health and safety at work.

In a statement, one unnamed Starbucks worker, said the staff were sick of “being paid minimum wage to work for a multibillion-dollar company, being understaffed during a global pandemic, and we don’t like decisions that directly affect our safety being made without us.”

Steve Hunt, the Western Canada director of the Steelworkers, said the staff started organizing electronically about one month ago, driven by concerns raised about health and safety during the pandemic.

“Everyone is concerned about their health and there were some issues here,” he said.

“It’s an interesting thing — we can’t organize if people are treated with dignity and respect. There are obviously some problems and we, hopefully, can work with the employer.”

In a statement, Starbucks said it prides itself on open and direct communication with its staff.

“And while we are disappointed with this result and respect the free choice of our partners to affiliate with unions, we believe a direct relationship with partners is the best way to create and maintain a great work environment,” the company said.

Hunt said Starbucks is not a typical marriage for the union, given the Steelworkers represent 50,000 workers in Western Canada, many of them forest workers, but the union has made itself available during the pandemic based on demand.

“We are getting calls from all over right now because of COVID-19,” he said, adding hospitality industry workers have a tough job being on the frontline during a pandemic.

Hunt said organizing a Starbucks staff is not normally what the union would do, but it has developed a position through the pandemic that essential workers doesn’t mean sacrificial.

“They needed a union and we are happy to represent them,” he said.

Hunt said the coffee shop’s staff likely sought the Steelworkers out because the union is known for its backbone.

“They probably looked around and we are well known,” he said. “We don’t go looking for a fight, but we don’t back down either. I think it was as simple as that.”

“Workers from all sectors are reaching out to unions for safety, decent wages and a voice in their workplaces, especially during the pandemic,” said Hunt.

“Workers are told they are essential, but they don’t have the wages or safety protections that should back that claim up.”

Hunt said the next step is to establish a bargaining committee among the workers, get some members active in the union and offer training, then contact the company about bargaining sessions.

aduffy@timescolonist.com