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Employees at a 4th Starbucks in Kansas City announce their plans to unionize

Large sign of the Starbucks mermaid sits in front of a single-story building with "Starbucks" sign attached the roof. Cars are parked in front of it and a customer is walking out of the building.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Traffic and customers flow in and out of the Starbucks located at 41st Street and Main on Tuesday morning.

Starbucks employees at 41st and Main streets in Midtown cited sanitation and protection from the pandemic in their announcement to collectively unionize.

Starbucks workers at 41st and Main streets in Midtown announced Tuesday they are filing for union elections. It’s the fourth Starbucks café across the metro to announce plans to unionize.

In a letter addressed to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Tuesday, workers at the 41st and Main streets location said they continued working throughout the pandemic, despite not receiving sanitary supplies and other protections they requested from the company.

“We will not let our company hide behind budgets and false platitudes when we ask for sanitation and protections from the literal pandemic that has nearly killed one million Americans to this day. We have endured uncertainty, hardship, and constant setbacks, yet we remain... We choose to stay because we all believed in the partner promise and for our customers for whom we endure the grind day after day.”

The baristas at the Midtown location are organizing with Workers United, a collective of Starbucks employees and union organizers, who successfully petitioned to unionize a Buffalo, New York, Starbucks last year.

Avis Sulzer, a barista at the Midtown location said having representation within the corporation was important to employees at the café.

“We actually need someone who's there looking for our best interest and we decided to unionize so we could put someone elected to try to push for changes,” Sulzer said.

Wren Denton, another barista at the Midtown store, said masking and other COVID-19 precautions have been an ongoing concern that employees feel is being overlooked by management.

“When it comes to other partners at the store getting COVID they claimed to be doing tracking, but when I would ask for elaboration on that I would get talked around and suddenly there would be no resolution,” Denton said.

Both workers felt the company could be more aggressive in addressing employees' concerns over discrimination in the workplace.

“We kind of find it upsetting that there's been no Starbucks official training on pronouns and gender discrimination,” Sulzer said.

A spokesperson for Starbucks said the company will continue to listen to workers' needs and unionization efforts will be met with amicable solutions.

“From the beginning, we respect our partner's legal right to organize and their voice, and should they choose to be represented by Workers United then we will bargain in good faith,” the spokesperson told KCUR.

According to Workers United, a majority of eligible employees at the 41st and Main streets location have signed union authorization cards.

The Midtown announcement follows three other Kansas City area Starbucks seeking unionization. They join locations on the Country Club Plaza, 39th street in Independence, and West 75th street in Overland Park in plans to collectively unionize.

On Saturday, employees staged a walkout at the Overland Park location, effectively shutting down the location until 5 p.m. in protest of unfair labor practices and retaliatory acts against workers trying to unionize.

Updated: March 22, 2022 at 2:32 PM CDT
This story was updated March 22, 2022, at 2:30 p.m. to include comments from Starbucks and workers at the Midtown Starbucks store.
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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