AP Photo/Joshua Bessex, File Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks' employees union election, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. The top lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board said Thursday, April 7, she will ask the board to rule that mandatory meetings some companies hold to persuade their workers reject unions is in violation of federal labor law.
AP Photo/Joshua Bessex, File

Two Valley Starbucks voted Thursday to unionize. 

The first, Seventh Street and Bell Road in Phoenix, won with seven workers voting in favor of the union and six against. 

The other store, 107th Avenue and Indian School Road in Avondale, won 17-3. 

Naomi Martinez, shift supervisor at the Avondale store, said this vote feels like a new beginning. 

“It’s hard to … battle that ‘yes or no’ vote, but now that ‘yes’ is in place, it’s just about getting the team even closer and getting them even more educated on what’s really going on,” Martinez told The Copper Courier. 

A third store, Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard, also had a count but did not reach an outcome Thursday. 

The initial vote was 6-8. Seven additional ballots are being challenged, and since that is enough to potentially change the outcome, a new count will be held following a hearing on the challenged ballots.  

“We’ll just be patient and see this through,” Bill Whitmire, a shift supervisor at the Scottsdale/Mayo location, told the Copper Courier. “We’ve held strong for this long, we’ve been going through this for four months, so it’s just going to be a little bit longer, and we’re really hopeful for a positive outcome.” 

Part of a Wave

The three ballot counts Thursday came after months of uncertainty for the Starbucks employees who sought to unionize, following in the footsteps of a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, and two stores in Mesa.  

Martinez said she was pro-union before starting her job with Starbucks and was inspired to bring one to her store after watching the movement in Buffalo. 

“I don’t think unionizing a store is necessarily a means of saying ‘This store failed, and now we’re unionizing,’” Martinez said. “I think even if you have the best store ever, you should try to unionize your store, because just because your store is doing great now and you love everyone and you have a great manager doesn’t mean that things are going to be that way in three to five years.”

Now the stores’ unions will form bargain committees to negotiate contracts with Starbucks, which can include asks for better pay and benefits, as well as proposals to change policies to improve working conditions. 

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced this week that the company was rolling out new benefits—many of which union leaders have asked for—but they will only be available to non-union stores

Labor union Workers United has said this move is illegal and filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board. 

More than 250 Starbucks locations nationwide have now filed for union elections.

RELATED: Two Arizona Starbucks Are on the Path to Unionize

Three other Arizona stores are in the process of unionizing: another in Mesa, one in Chandler, and one in Tucson. 

An Ugly Fight

Whitmire of the Scottsdale/Mayo location said after staff became concerned over scheduling and short-staffing in January, he reached out to Starbucks workers in Buffalo to ask about the process of unionizing. 

One of his co-workers who helped organize the union was fired April 4, the day before union election ballots were sent out. 

Laila Dalton, a 19-year-old student at Arizona State University, tweeted that she was fired after receiving warnings from her supervisors. “My heart is broken,” she said on social media. 

Dalton said she was the victim of harassment at work because of her efforts to help unionize staff. She recorded conversations between herself and supervisors in an attempt to show how she was being targeted. 

The NLRB issued a complaint against Starbucks in March over accusations that it retaliated against Dalton and another employee, Alyssa Sanchez. 

In April, the NLRB said Starbucks engaged in unfair labor practices. The agency sought an injunction to make Starbucks hire back its three employees—Dalton, Sanchez, and Tyler Gillette—who were three of four members of the union organizing committee.

“Among other things, Starbucks disciplined, suspended, and discharged one employee, constructively discharged another, and placed a third on an unpaid leave of absence after revoking recently granted accommodations,” the filing states.

“Constructive discharge” is a legal term meaning an employee quits due to an employer creating a hostile work environment. 

RELATED: Federal Officials Say Starbucks Engaged in Unfair Labor Practices in Phoenix

Starbucks told The Copper Courier that Dalton’s firing was not connected to her union activity. 

“A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held,” a company spokesperson said. “We will continue enforcing our policies consistently for all partners.”