HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP (Mercer) — A New Jersey Starbucks could be the state's first whose workforce unionizes.

Two of the coffee chain's stores in suburban Buffalo have voted to form unions and more in Boston and Cleveland are considering it over concerns about safety and staffing during the pandemic. A letter by the union organizing committee at the store on Route 31 in Hopewell voices similar concerns.

In a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, Starbucks Workers United laments the loss of being able to develop relationships with their customers through ongoing conversations and getting to know them so well that their drink is ready for them when they walk in the door.

"What they've instead been getting with more frequency lately is a rushed order thrown together by a team of baristas struggling to balance an unreasonable amount of tasks all at once. You've encouraged us to build connections in our communities but aren't sharing with us the means to do so," the committee says in the letter.

Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks' employees union election in Buffalo
Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks' employees union election in Buffalo (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex, File)

Starbucks opposed to unions

The letter includes a section titled "non-interference and fair election practices for partner unionization" that allows equal activity from organizers if the company addresses the organization.

If the company posts anti-union material at the store, the organizers say they can post pro-union material. Organizers say that they can also hold a meeting on company time to discuss unionization if management also holds a meeting during business hours.

The 50-year-old company has actively fought unionization for decades, saying its more than 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores function best when it works directly with employees.

Hopewell organizer Sara Mughal told NJ.com that their calls to a “partner resources hotline” to express concerns about store safety get no action.

A union organizer at a store in suburban Buffalo said the company tried to intimidate workers against unionizing.

Dozens of managers were sent to oppose the efforts in individual and group meetings with employees, according to the filings. Workers were told they could lose benefits under a union, and pro-union employees were spied on and saw their schedules changed and hours reduced, the union said.

“These claims are grossly inaccurate. We did not and do not engage in intimidation tactics,” Starbucks responded in a statement. “We are partners and we show up for one another. That’s what we do and what we continue to do.”

(Includes material copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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