SUPERIOR, Colo. — When Len Harris saw workers at a Starbucks in Buffalo, NY win their union vote last year, she said she was inspired.
"That's kind of what kickstarted and inspired me to to really take the plunge," she said. "But frankly, I had been kind of noticing this pattern of worker disparity in Starbucks ... not even just Starbucks, actually really just the working class in general in America."
Harris, a shift supervisor at the Starbucks in Superior off of Coalton Road and Rock Creek Circle, took the lead to facilitate the organizing efforts.
She started with communicating with the Starbucks Workers United team through social media.
Fast forward to December 30, 2021, and Harris found herself and co-workers filing paperwork to hold an election to unionize.
It was by sheer coincidence, Harris says, that the filing of that paperwork occurred on the day of the Marshall Fire.
"Everybody was messaging, 'I love you. Be safe.' It was a very sort of it was an intimate moment for a lot of for a lot of us," she said, adding that her co-workers had to evacuate work that day. Many of them also had to evacuate their homes.
"Unfortunately, one of our coworkers did lose her home," she said.
Harris recalled a particular moment during the fire evacuations that helped solidify the decision to effort unionizing.
"I evacuated with my spouse and another coworker of mine and their spouse -- two of us [had] kind of a buddy system. We evacuated to Lakewood, and once we finally got there, our store manager called to see if we were OK, like, 'Hey, are you guys OK? Did you find shelter? Great.' And then the next response was, 'OK, expect to be back at work at noon tomorrow," Harris said. "Like, I can't even believe they'd expect us to be at work when we're still running from a fire that we don't know how severe it's going to become, after it's already known to be really severe. So, yeah, I would say definitely motivated us..."
Stronger wages and more comprehensive benefits are also what Harris and her coworkers are after, among other things.
"I want people to know what they have, they know their worth, and to know when they should fight for their worth," Harris said.
Friday was the first step toward having a hand in that.
Harris and her coworkers gathered inside the Superior location, as the National Labor Relations Board counted the ballots.
Ballots had to first be validated by the board, 14 of which were. They needed to hit a threshold of eight "yes" votes.
"And the moment that eight hit, all of us jumped out of our chairs. But the count just kept going. So we felt bad," Harris excitedly recalled, saying the final vote was 12-2 in favor of the union.
The win means the location would join the Starbucks Workers United Union, which only a handful of locations across the United States have successfully voted to join.
"But the point is to set forth a motion that's going to help people as time goes on," Harris said. "It's people 10 years from now, how is this going to better the community in the environment? And that's, you know, knowing that I was keeping that in mind and that I was trying to keep that at the the top of my goals..."
Starbucks leadership has long held their stance that they believe the company operates better without unions.
A spokesperson shared with 9NEWS in early March a statement reading in part:
We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores, as we always do across the country. Starbucks success—past, present, and future—is built on how we partner together, always with Our Mission and Values at our core.
Rossann Williams, an executive vice president and president of the North American region for Starbucks, has shared that they respect their workers' right to organize.
In a letter sent in December 2021, Williams also said, “the vote outcomes will not change our shared purpose or how we will show up for each other. … We will keep listening, we will keep connecting and we will keep being in service of one another because that’s what we’ve always done and what it means to be partner.”
More recently, federal labor officials say Starbucks engaged in unfair labor practices in Phoenix by firing three employees.
A filing yesterday in Arizona District court alleges Starbucks retaliated after learning employees there planned to unionize.
The National Labor Relations Board's Phoenix office is requesting an injunction, which would force the company to re-hire the employees.
However, earlier this week Starbucks filed two complaints of their own with the NLRB, alleging the union organizers in Phoenix and in Denver broke federal labor laws, according to CNBC.
Harris is hoping that the union they're now part of can help fight for seniority pay, and higher pay when the store is short-staffed.
"If you're here for a year, get a raise. One of the other things we want to see is compensation for being short-staffed. If there's supposed to be six people scheduled and only four show up, as it is right now, the company reabsorbed those wages," Harris said. "We'd like to see health insurance be covered by the employer. They more than can do that. So there is a lot of things that we want to address, even simple things like get rid of the the dress code or be more lenient with the dress code or something."
Harris said soon they'll be able to work on bargaining and write up a contract.
A union organizer told 9NEWS over the phone Saturday night that four more locations have union elections coming up on April 28. Two of which in Denver, and the other two in Colorado Springs.
9NEWS recently spoke to the Starbucks location on the 16th Street Mall after they filed a petition to vote on unionization, with an emphasis on safety for employees.
It all comes at a time when Colorado has seen a dip in union membership.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members accounted for 6.5% of wage and salary workers in 2021 in Colorado, compared to 7.4% in 2020.
The most recent peak was seen in 2018 with 11% of Coloradans in unions.
"So there's two sets of reasons for why unionization might drop. One is that workers believe that they're getting more of what they need from their employers without the benefit of collective bargaining," he explained. "The other is that employers are opposing unionization more effectively now at the moment. My guess is that it's probably the first reason, rather than the second."
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