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Starbucks workers at the 39th and Walnut Street location voted to unionize on Jan. 10. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Starbucks employees at the 39th and Walnut streets location near Penn voted to unionize on Jan. 10, joining a growing national movement.

The workers joined the Starbucks Workers United union after a majority vote of 14 to 2. The national group calls for higher wages, safer working conditions, racial and gender equity, fair scheduling, and respect. The store became the 11th in Pennsylvania to unionize and joined the efforts of nearly 400 other Starbucks stores nationwide. 

“With a union, workers will have the power to negotiate with our employer as equals, work with a contract that guarantees our rights, and elect the people we want representing us,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement.

There are now three unionized Starbucks locations on Penn’s campus. The stores on 34th and Walnut streets and at Penn Medicine unionized in 2022.

Employees at 39th and Walnut streets began their unionization efforts last November, when they participated in a national walkout on Red Cup Day, an annual tradition where Starbucks customers receive free reusable red cups with their purchase. 

There were reportedly around 40 workers picketed outside the location, some of whom came from neighboring locations. The walkout was staged on this date due to its higher than average business. 

“Currently, there are fewer than 100 stores where some partners have chosen to participate in protest activities, but the majority of those stores are open and serving customers,” Starbucks wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian at the time of the protest.

The walkout resulted in the store shutting down for the day and baristas gathering together, hoping to pressure the company to arrange fair contracts.

Accusations that Starbucks refuses to negotiate a fair contract came along with the workers’ insistence. As a result, Workers United has filed multiple charges against the corporation with the National Labor Relations Board. Among the cited violations were worker intimidation, discriminatory rules, unlawful discipline, and termination of union organizers.

“Workers United hasn’t agreed to meet to progress contract bargaining in more than four months,” Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The coffee company has already lost 16 of the 17 cases brought up against them. Additionally, last year, a federal judge ruled that the company illegally raised wages and benefits exclusively for non-unionized stores across the United States last year.

No location has reached a contract with the company since the first store unionized more than two years ago. Last December, Starbucks announced that it wanted to resume discussing contracts beginning in January of this year. 

The proposal was included in Starbucks Vice President and Chief Partner Officer Sara Kelly’s letter to Worker’s United President Lynne Fox.

“It has not helped Starbucks, Workers United or, most importantly, our partners. In this spirit, we are asking for your support and agreement to restart bargaining,” Kelly wrote.

A direct response to the company has not yet been made. Fox shared that she was reviewing the letter in a statement to The New York Times.

“We’ve never said no to meeting with Starbucks. Anything that moves bargaining forward in a positive way is most welcome,” Fox said.

Nonetheless, employees continue to celebrate the progression of their unionization efforts. 

“My wonderful coworkers and I worked hard to win our union, and I’m so grateful and proud to finally be a part of it all,” Starbucks worker Ash Hoffman told WHYY.