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Ithaca Starbucks workers begin unionization effort

The Ithaca Commons location is one of three Starbucks stores with workers looking to unionize.
Megan Zerez
The Ithaca Commons location is one of three Starbucks stores with workers looking to unionize.

VESTAL (WSKG) — Inspired by a successful effort to unionize a location in Buffalo in December, Starbucks workers at three locations in Ithaca said they want to follow suit.

Organizers said they’re in the process of collecting authorization cards from employees at the Collegetown, Commons and Meadow Street locations to support a vote to unionize.

“We were honestly quite surprised at just how receptive they are,” said Hope Liepe, an organizing committee member for the Meadow Street location. “I guess it helps that we’re in a very liberal town and a lot of our employees are college students, which tend to have a bit more the liberal views, which has really helped us.”

Liepe said she and other workers are concerned about safety measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a surge of cases slammed Tompkins County last month, Liepe said the company did not compensate workers who lost hours after having to self-isolate. She said workers are also directed not to ask customers to put on masks if they enter a store without one.

At the Meadow Street location, which only opened in the past few weeks, Liepe said four workers are often doing the work of nine during peak times. She said she’s often expected to make the equivalent of a drink every minute.

“We’ve had multiple partners, even including myself, just start crying on the floor because they’re way too stressed,” Liepe said.

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Last month, Starbucks workers in Buffalo officially voted to form a union, the first for a corporate-run location for the company.

Evan Sunshine, an organizing committee member who works at the Collegetown location in Ithaca, said he sported a pin on his apron supporting the Buffalo union and has since been inspired to make the same move in Ithaca.

“We’re really inspired with that,” Sunshine said. “I had a lot of complaints about the management and I’m like, 'We need to do something about this.' And my coworker says, 'Well, you know who can help with that?' And he pointed to the pin I was wearing. That’s what really inspired me and all of us to reach out to the labor organizers with Starbucks Workers United.”

A spokesperson for Starbucks told WSKG that the company respects its workers and will respect the organizing process as dictated by the National Labor Relations Board.

“Our position hasn’t changed: Starbucks success — past, present and future — is built on how we partner together, always with Our Mission and Values at our core,” the spokesperson for Starbucks wrote. “We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country.”

The organizers said they expect to file paperwork with the NLRB in the coming days. It could take several months until a formal vote to unionize can be conducted.