Negotiating for the future: Unions on the rise in Michigan

Owen Foster

The drive-thru line stretches out of the Starbucks parking lot. The staff inside rush to meet the countless orders. Understaffed, underpaid, and questioning why corporate puts them through this, the employees are at their breaking point. 

   Many workers understand this reality. They feel as though there is nothing they can do to change their conditions. 

   Yet, there is a way: unionizing. A large culture shift is happening throughout the US. Workers, such as those at Starbucks joining Starbucks Workers United, are opting to hold votes to request union elections. This will enable workers to be able to sit down in a legal forum to negotiate better pay, benefits, and working conditions. 

   These votes are overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB makes sure that the National Labor Relations Act is upheld so that workers can associate and use collective bargaining to gain better working conditions without retaliation. 

   Many people don’t realize forming a union does not guarantee better pay and working conditions; however, the workers and corporate coming together to discuss improvements can create the opportunity for change. More often than not, the changes can lead to a better situation for employees. 

   There are reasons why Starbucks workers want to unionize. At its most extreme, workers have faced conditions such as rat infestations, and safety issues, like rashes and burns from machines within the store. Many workers around the country claim how often they would have to fight for shifts because Starbucks would not give consistent hours to workers. Living wages could not be met. 

   The most known example of unionization recently is workers at Amazon forming the Amazon Labor Union in 2020. Elections have been held recently in various locations such as Bessemer, Alabama, and in Staten Island, New York. 

   Unfortunately, unionizing has its dangers. Many workers must stay anonymous when talking about unionizing, and there could be repercussions from corporations if a worker is found to be in support of forming a union. 

   In fact, Starbucks has faced various union busting allegations across the country. These include raising non-union member salaries, and workers involved in union organizing getting fired. 

   In order to show the possibility for change, the unions need national attention, even if anonymous. This way they can present their efforts and goals, and exhibit to the public that they are a force for good.  

   There has been an impact. Headlines present the news of the large movement towards unionization in cities like Buffalo, New York. Workers hope to earn more livable wages, and possibly have more options for benefits. Who doesn’t want the possibility of better benefits and opportunities? 

   This mobilization has spread to cities such as Ann Arbor here in Michigan, with seven stores filing for Union elections. Other Michigan cities such as Flint and Grand Rapids also have stores filing for elections. 

    A store in Grand Rapids, located off Burton street in Kentwood, filed for a union election on March 7. They voted 15-3 in favor of unionizing, as overseen by the NLRB. 

   Here in Holland, unionization has not quite made its mark yet, but the efforts in other states have not gone unnoticed.  

   “I have not heard any word of unionizing of Starbucks at any of the Holland locations, but since it has been a topic in different states I feel like I could hear about the topic in the near future,” an anonymous employee said from a local Starbucks. 

   “I understand why workers are trying to unionize. I work at a licensed store so I do not get treated the same as they do at the corporate locations, but I have heard of the conditions,” she said. 

   She has experienced some of these difficult conditions first-hand, “I have gotten chemical burns and have obtained many cuts just going to work for four hours,” she said. “I would really only want a raise especially with all the chemicals that are worked with and the conditions can be harsh at times.”

   Speaking on the benefits, she said, “I feel like unionizing could definitely be beneficial. Especially since the wages are extremely low compared to other big chains and licensed locations.” 

   “I’m not really sure if there is any support for unionizing in Holland but I wouldn’t see why it would be an issue especially if employees are trying to get what they deserve,” she said. 

   All employees deserve beneficial and safe working environments. When conditions aren’t met, that is why unions are formed. The workers want to negotiate for the change they want to see. They want to be able to work safely, while also making a living off of their wages.

   The groundwork has been set for unions to take hold in Holland. It is now on the workers to decide if they want to take the step forward.