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Union efforts in Hialeah? Starbucks workers the first in South Florida to start process

Paul J, Richards
AFP/Getty Images
Following a successful effort in Buffalo, New York, workers at a Starbucks in Hialeah have launched a unionization effort. That makes them the first store in South Florida to attempt to unionize.

The Hialeah location on West 49th Street follows in the footsteps of a successful unionization effort in Buffalo, New York.

Workers at a prominent Starbucks coffee shop in Hialeah are becoming the first in South Florida to join efforts to unionize branches of the country’s largest coffee shop chain.

The Hialeah location on West 49th Street follows in the footsteps of a successful unionization effort in Buffalo,NewYork two months ago, which was the first U.S. shop to do so. Since reaching that milestone, dozens of shops across the nation have started unionization efforts, including several shops in Tallahassee.

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The workers turned in their union cards to the National Labor Relations Board on Monday night. Under federal law, that begins the process of holding an election that could force the company to enter into collective bargaining negotiations with workers.

Hialeah native Will Suarez, a night shift manager at the location, said the amount of union cards collected and turned in already represent a majority of workers.

“At the current composition, we win the election,” said Suarez, who is an organizer in the effort.

Suarez said a series of challenges has brought employees – “partners” in Starbucks parlance – together to launch the process. He cited increased use of delivery apps during the pandemic that has brought about increased workload, alongside exploding rental rates and other costs of living.

The Cuban-American majority city of Hialeah is one of the most reliably Republican-voting large cities in the state of Florida, a political party that has traditionally been at odds with unionization efforts and collective bargaining rights.

But that does not tell the full story, said Suarez.

“Regardless of people’s ideology, Hialeah is primarily a city of workers. We work for a living,” he said. “And naturally anyone that works for a living should join a union. And even people in Hialeah can recognize that.”

Nothing about a unionization effort is assured. Several employees involved in unionization efforts in Memphis, Tennessee were fired. The company said the workers violated store policies for things like allowing media organizations into the store to conduct interviews, while organizers claimed the firings were retaliatory.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Hialeah unionization effort, but the company has previously expressed that it would respect union election results. At the same time, the company has said it does not believe unions are in the best interest of workers and the company.

Starbucks has created a website, titled "We Are One Starbucks" that encourages employees to vote against unionizing and explains why the company feels unions aren't necessary.

“We’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us,” a Starbucks representative recently told WFSU about union efforts in Tallahassee, “and that conviction has not changed.”

Whatever comes next, Suarez said the nascent effort has already changed dynamics among staff, even if some fellow workers have said they do not support the effort to unionize.

“I saw two partners look at each other and say, ‘Remember when we used to hate each other?’ And they just squashed their beef in front of me,” he said. “In my private moments I’ve been moved to tears thinking about just how beautiful that is and how amazing the power of organizing is, how transformative it is.”

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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