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Starbucks workers in the Kansas City area say the coffee chain can't stop their union push

A large crowd of people hold signs and wave flags near a Starbucks coffee shop.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Protesters at Starbucks on the Country Club Plaza on Thursday heard speakers claim the coffee chain was dealing with union organizing in bad faith.

A rally for Starbucks employees was held at the Country Club Plaza location. Some workers are trying to organize for better pay and safety.

Workers at two Kansas City-area Starbucks locations accused the international coffee shop chain on Thursday of union-busting tactics, but they insisted that won’t deter a push for collective bargaining.

“All we’re asking for is a seat at the table,” Chris Fielder, a barista at the Country Club Plaza location, said. “If they're not going to give it to us, we’re just gonna stand up and take it.”

On Thursday, local Starbucks workers held a rally for higher wages and better working conditions outside the chain’s Country Club Plaza location. Workers from the Overland Park store at 75th Street also held a rally at the same time at the Overland Park Convention Center.

Workers on the Plaza were joined by picketers from Stand Up KC, a local organization made up of service workers, community faith leaders and members of UAW Local 31.

Terrence Wise, a leader of Stand Up KC and the Missouri Workers Center, said the effort is paying off and noted that the Plaza Starbucks closed shortly before the union demonstration.

“They've closed to try to staunch this demonstration,” Wise said. “(That) shows that workers have power and can impact change when they come together.”

Sarah Maier, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said the company wants to work with its employees.

“We believe we are best in our direct relationship with one other so that we can keep hearing directly from one another, without a third party between us,” she said. “But that said, we also fully respect our partners' legal right to unionize.”

Workers have cited safety as a concern at both locations. Overland Park employees say fire exits have been blocked. Plaza employees have said complained about a lack of security to cope with unruly customers.

Workers at both Starbucks locationsannounced plans to unionize in January. Workers at the Overland Park location have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against the coffee chain claiming it threatened to slash benefits in response to union organizing efforts.

The union push at the two Kansas City area locations come in the wake of a successful push to organize workers at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, late last year. Since then, dozens of Starbucks stores across the country have announced their own plans to unionize.

State Rep. Patty Lewis, a Kansas City Democrat, said the unionization drive in Kansas City could inspire other workers in the service industry to organize.

“We are a proud union city,” Lewis said. “Everybody deserves a seat at the table, the right to organize, negotiate wages, working conditions.”

Jacob Martin is a news intern at KCUR. Follow him on Twitter @jacob_noah or email him at Jacobmartin@kcur.org.
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