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Unionization push at Canadian Starbucks gaining steam but facing similar

Unionization among Canadian Starbucks employees is starting to gain traction, organizers say, but much like their U.S. counterparts, workers face barriers and alleged anti-union activity by the coffee giant.

More than a year before the recent wave of Starbucks unionization in the U.S. began, a store in Victoria unionized with the United Steelworkers in August 2020 — and workers across the country took note.

Now, there are six unionized locations across B.C. and Alberta, and organizers say there are more in the works.

“I think the pandemic has caused people to look at their lives, their work, their community in a bit of a different way,” said Scott Lunny, USW’s director for Western Canada.

Since late last year, more than 250 stores south of the border have voted to unionize, according to the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.

But a successful certification vote is just one step in unionizing; workers don’t start paying dues until a contract has been negotiated. And though contract talks with some U.S. stores have begun, no agreements have been reached, The Associated Press has reported.

Last Thursday, workers at more than a hundred U.S. stores went on strike for the day to protest working conditions.

That makes the Victoria store the only location in North America to have a collective agreement with the company.

In some cases, stores in the same geographical area could organize in clusters as one bargaining unit, said Lunny. That’s what happened for two stores in Surrey and Langley, B.C., which successfully certified as one bargaining unit. In Lethbridge, Alta., five stores held an unsuccessful certification vote.

Demonstrators protest outside a closed Starbucks location in Seattle this summer. Hundreds of the coffee chain’s locations in the U.S. have faced union drives in recent months. (David Ryder/Bloomberg)

Lunny said service workers broadly have become interested in unionization over the pandemic and especially in recent months amid higher inflation.

In deciding to unionize, the Victoria workers wanted more support regarding harassment by customers and clearer communication about COVID-19 practices, said shift supervisor and union representative Sarah Broad.

Broad said she’s noticed a big difference since the contract was ratified, with “tenfold” improvements in health and safety. The workers also got wage increases.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Earlier this year, Starbucks said it would give workers across Canada and other jurisdictions raises and other improvements. However, Broad said a letter was posted in the back room of the Victoria store explaining they wouldn’t be getting the raise because of the union contract.

Starbucks spokeswoman Carly Suppa said in an email this is because the Victoria store’s contract includes annual wage increases.

USW filed a labour complaint on behalf of the Victoria store. It’s one of several labour complaints filed by the union on behalf of Starbucks stores, said Lunny, one of which — accusing the…

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