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Reporting on health care, criminal justice, the economy and other important issues in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

Workers at New Orleans Starbucks say yes to unionizing; the 1st in Louisiana

Billie Nyx, right, hugs their cousin Krystal Chambers outside of the Starbucks on Maple Street after announcing that employees at the New Orleans store voted to unionize
Orlando Flores Jr./Gulf States Newsroom
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Billie Nyx, right, hugs their cousin Krystal Chambers outside of the Starbucks on Maple Street after announcing that employees at the New Orleans store voted to unionize, June 4, 2022. The store is the first of the coffee giant’s to successfully vote to unionize in Louisiana.

Starbucks workers at a New Orleans store have voted to join Workers United, becoming the first of the coffee giant’s stores in Louisiana to unionize.

The successful vote, which took place over Friday and Saturday at a Starbucks warehouse across the street from the Carrollton neighborhood coffee shop, comes a little more than a week after workers at a Birmingham, Alabama store joined Workers United in a near-unanimous vote.

The final tally for the store at 7700 Maple St. was also nearly unanimous; 11 for unionization, with 1 voting against it, according to union organizers. Two ballots were challenged.

After hearing the result, barista Caitlyn Pierce — wearing rose-tinted glasses and a black Starbucks Workers United T-shirt — embraced other union supporters outside the warehouse.

“I’m feeling amazing,” Pierce said. “This is something we worked so hard for and it’s just great to finally get here.”

Pierce and her colleagues said they were motivated to organize and vote yes because of regular shifts where they were overworked and understaffed.

Caitlyn Pierce, a barista at the Maple Street Starbucks in New Orleans, celebrates her store’s successful unionization vote after the final tally is read.
Orlando Flores Jr./Gulf States Newsroom
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Caitlyn Pierce, a barista at the Maple Street Starbucks in New Orleans, celebrates her store’s successful unionization vote after the final tally is read, June 4, 2022.

Billie Nyx, the lead organizer of the union campaign who was fired in mid-May for closing the store early without permission from higher management, observed the final tally on Saturday and was tasked with reading out the single “no” vote that was cast.

“It was chill,” Nyx said of the atmosphere in the warehouse. “Everybody was civil. Everything went according to plan. No complications or anything.”

Nyx believed their firing — which is being contested — was retaliation from Starbucks because of their union advocacy. The National Labor Relations Board had 177 open unfair labor practice cases against Starbucks by Tuesday, including complaints that the company has unjustly fired and retaliated against pro-union employees like Nyx.

“I feel really incredible right now,” Nyx said after informing their former colleagues of the result. “Regardless of everything, it just solidifies that whenever I do return to my job … I'll be coming back to a unionized store and I'll get to enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

Billie Nyx smiles while talking to reporters following the Maple Street Starbucks’ successful unionization vote.
Orlando Flores Jr./Gulf States Newsroom
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Billie Nyx smiles while talking to reporters following the Maple Street Starbucks’ successful unionization vote, June 4, 2022. Nyx led the unionization effort as shift supervisor at the New Orleans store before being fired in mid-May.

The next step for the now-unionized employees will be to wait and see if Starbucks challenges the result. From there, they will negotiate a contract with the company. Those negotiations are often an uphill battle that can take over a year to complete and can potentially lead to a strike.

In the meantime, Nyx said they will meet with their lawyer and gather those still working at the store to solidify their specific demands for the contract negotiations.

“We need to make sure everyone’s input is heard,” Nyx said. “Hopefully Starbucks doesn’t hold up the negotiations too much.”

A button says Starbucks Workers United in support of workers at a New Orleans store that successfully unionized.
Orlando Flores Jr./Gulf States Newsroom
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Paul Bissember wears a button on his t-shirt in support of Starbucks Workers United, June 4, 2022. Bissember, a member of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers union, was at the Maple Street Starbucks to support Nyx, Pierce and the other workers unionizing.

The Maple Street Starbucks is now one of more than 100 Starbucks stores that have voted to unionize, with only 14 voting against it as of Tuesday, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The union surge began after a store in Buffalo, New York became the first Starbucks in the U.S. to vote in favor of a union in December.

Starbucks has waged an anti-union campaign in the last several months, arguing that unions prevent the stores from serving the needs of its employees. In early May, the company said it would give employees new benefits, but only at stores not unionizing.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration among Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Alabama and WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR.

Stephan Bisaha is the wealth and poverty reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a regional collaboration between NPR and member stations in Alabama (WBHM), Mississippi (MPB) and Louisiana (WWNO and WRKF). He reports on the systemic drivers of poverty in the region and economic development.

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