This article has been updated with additional information.

Employees of Montclair’s Church Street Starbucks, located at 40 South Park Street, voted this week to join Starbucks Workers United.

“I’m very happy with the outcome – a unanimous vote for the union,” said Celeste Cruz, a shift manager at the store and observer for the union. “All we want is to be true partners with Starbucks and have a seat at the table. Now that we have crossed this first hurdle and have a union, it’s time to negotiate a fair contract.”

In early July, a letter written by members of the store’s organizing committee was sent to Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz contending that operations were plagued by understaffing, poorly working equipment and improper training. They said the company had been hostile toward their union organizing. Members of the community in Montclair voiced support for the workers as they advocated for better wages and working conditions and more stable scheduling. 

On July 15, mail-in ballots for the election were sent out with a return date of Aug. 5. The downtown Montclair Starbucks became the fourth in the state to vote to unionize following stores in Hamilton, Hopewell and Summit, which were the first to join the union this spring.

“To be completely honest, we already expected it to go this way,” said James Cruz, a 24-year-old Starbucks barista and member of the team’s organizing committee. “We already had a really close relationship with all of our co-workers, so we kind of already knew where everyone was leaning.”

James Cruz and the rest of the Church Street Starbucks team heard the official announcement on Aug. 10 at a private Zoom meeting with the company. “As usual, Starbucks wanted to make the meeting private, even though it's a public event, which they were told several times,” Cruz said. 

Although the news feels like a positive step for the team, Cruz said the issues initially sparking their desire to unionize have only worsened in recent weeks, particularly with work scheduling. 

Students who work at the Church Street store have had difficulty getting schedule changes to accommodate their classes, he said. 

“We were expecting more people to come on board, and now there's not enough people to cover shifts, so some of us have to essentially take a loss,” James Cruz said. “I'm one of the employees that have kind of been denied a schedule change.” 

Cruz said he was told that his new schedule does not work for the location. He was given the choice of either transferring or quitting. He added that he’s not the only barista at Church Street with schedule conflicts.  

The scheduling issues have been coupled with ongoing hiring problems the Church Street team continues to face. One of the team’s biggest asks is for the company to hire more trained employees at the location, or to promote the team's currently trained staff. However, Cruz said the request has only led to additional work with no positive change. 

“The thing is that we've always requested more people,” Cruz said. “Every single day that we've been struggling on the floor, every single day that we've been struggling to close, we always say the same thing, that we needed more people on these days. But it seems that Starbucks in general is skirting around the issue of hiring. They only decided to hire once the staff that was already fed up quit.”

Since last month, Cruz said, a handful of baristas have quit their jobs. He said one woman, who was only recently hired, just walked out of the store never to return. 

“I know of, I think, two or three other people who might be moving on to either school, or moving out of the state period and just leaving the job,” he said. “A lot of them too have been rejected for the opportunity to transfer. I was the only one that was offered that.” 

This consistent schedule imbalance and loss of employees makes it difficult for Cruz to estimate the number of current workers on the team of the Church Street Starbucks. He said these obstacles feel as though they may be a vengeful punishment for the team's decision to unionize. 

“We've had people who had experience that were rejected to move up in the company,” Cruz said, adding, “It's starting to seem like retaliation, what we're dealing with.” 

American labor and workplace journalist Steven Greenhouse said the Starbucks employees’ allegations were not surprising. 

“American corporations are more aggressively anti-union than corporations in any other wealthy, industrialized nation,” Greenhouse said. “We saw that with Amazon, we saw that with Walmart, we saw that with McDonald’s, now we’re seeing it with Starbucks.”  

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is currently processing 286 unfair labor practice (ULP) cases related to Starbucks. The agency also has 314 election petitions for Starbucks stores that are either in process or have certified results. 

Of the NLRB’s 286 open ULP cases related to Starbucks, 284 are filed against Starbucks or Siren Retail Corporation (Starbucks’ subsidiary company), and two are filed against Workers United. These cases are spread across 28 states. Regional Offices will now investigate each charge filed and determine whether to issue a complaint, seek a settlement or dismiss the charge.

Now officially unionized, the Church Street Starbucks team has been asking for help and advice from the three other unionized NJ Starbucks locations. Together, the teams have been planning Church Street’s next moves. 

“They have been indispensable in giving us so many resources, especially Hopewell,” James Cruz said. “Honestly, in the next weeks and months, I'm hoping that we're going to see some more stores show some interest in unionization, maybe some more outreach from other people, and maybe we can see if we can try to make some significant change while we're still in the middle of trying to get Starbucks to negotiate with us.”