(The Center Square) — Employees at a Pittsburgh Starbucks say they want to de-unionize amid growing workplace tension.
The request comes just one year after the Penn Center East location became one of 25 in Pennsylvania to organize under Starbucks Workers United, which is affiliated with the SEIU.
Longtime employee and Shift Supervisor Elizabeth Gulliford filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, on July 12 to hold a vote on whether to break with the union.
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Gulliford supported the establishment of the union but changed her mind after she said its representation created tension at the Pittsburgh Starbucks. Workers officially unionized in June 2022.
“Things since then have been a little bit rocky, and a lot of the partners have just been very unhappy with how things are; it’s just created a very chaotic atmosphere in our store,” Gulliford said. “I think the expectations were set a little bit high.”
She also noted a lack of communication with union representatives regarding workplace issues and what’s happening at other stores.
“I can’t speak on behalf of all of the unionized stores, but I do know for our store, the initial inclusivity that was kind of projected has turned into being the complete opposite,” Gulliford said. “We thought we would have a voice, but we really don’t because no one’s in communication with us.”
Whether the board grants the two dozen workers at Starbucks a vote to decertify the union, however, is yet to be determined.
On July 24, Tara Yoest, the acting regional director of region six of the NLRB, issued an order that petitioners must “provide written cause of its legal position and argument” before the petition could move forward.
We thought we would have a voice, but we really don’t because no one’s in communication with us.
The response is also required to address allegations of unfair labor practices at the store.
Yoest noted that they include Starbucks unlawfully refusing to bargain with the union, withholding wage increases from workers at unionized stores while granting them to nonunionized stores, and two complaints of unfair employee firings.
A response to the NLRB is required by August 7 for the decertification petition to move forward. If the NLRB rules the petition can move forward, it would set a date for a vote to decertify the union.
Union decertification isn’t unheard of, but it’s relatively rare. Starbucks Workers United claims to have unionized more than 340 stores nationally. The National Right to Work Foundation, a legal group that advocates against compulsory unionism and is supporting Gulliford in her petition, is also assisting workers at two Starbucks locations in Manhattan and Buffalo to decertify their unions.
“While we are happy that the Starbucks workers are able to take their first steps in exercising their rights oust an unwanted union, we call on SBWU union officials not to attempt to block or otherwise interfere with the rank-and-file workers’ right to hold this vote,” NRWF President Mark Mix said in a press release.
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.