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Wichita Starbucks workers trying to unionize for better pay, breastfeeding privacy

Workers at the Starbucks store at 21st and Amidon in Wichita were the first in the city to organize a union drive.
Daniel Caudill/KMUW
Workers at the Starbucks store at 21st and Amidon in Wichita were the first in the city to organize a union drive.

Organizers say 70% of the store's employees support the union.

Workers at a Starbucks in Wichita hope their store will join the nearly 60 others around the country with a union.

Employees at the Starbucks at 21st and Amidon filed for a union vote with the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) on Friday. It’s the first store to do so in Wichita and the second in Kansas.

Maia Cuellar Serafini is a barista at that Starbucks location and a lead organizer in the union drive. She says employees are organizing for better pay and hours, and for a private space for employees who are nursing moms to pump breast milk.

“It’s our boss’ desk with a shower curtain,” she said. “The current mother we have right now that’s pumping, she’s been walked in on several times, which is not OK.”

Cuellar Serafini said they have not yet received an election date but hope it will be in about a month. They’ll need at least 50% plus one vote in order to secure union representation.

She said about 70% of the store’s 27 shift leaders and baristas support the union.

“In recent years, especially with the pandemic, working class people have hit a breaking point, where they are saying, ‘Why are the CEOs of these companies making billions of dollars, and we are scraping by?’” she said.

“'Why are we getting the bare minimum when we are the backbone of this company?' If all of us left, this company couldn't function.”

Workers at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, secured the first unionized Starbucks store in the country in December 2021. Since then, workers at more than 200 stores have filed for elections, with about 56 winning union representation so far.

Amid the nationwide unionization movement, the NLRB has also filed a number of complaints against Starbucks for anti-union practices.

One of those complaints alleges that a Starbucks in Overland Parkillegally fired three employees for supporting the union drive at their store. Workers at that store ultimately voted in favor of the union.

The complaint also alleges the Overland Park Starbucks threatened to deny a pro-union, transgender employee gender-affirming health care – a benefit that Starbucks touts in hiring material.

Cuellar Serafini said managers at her store have also told employees that their current benefits could not be guaranteed if they formed a union – something she described as illegal intimidation.

She said that ultimately pushed two of her coworkers toward being supportive of the union.

“So a lot of these threats that Starbucks has been making actually have backfired,” she said.

Starbucks also faces complaints for allegedly retaliating against pro-union employees in Phoenix and Memphis. The NLRB is hoping to secure a court order to reinstate the seven workers who were fired in Memphis.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Starbucks said the company is “listening and learning” from unionizing partners but opposes the formation of a union.

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process,” the statement reads.

Billionaire CEO Howard Schultz has also openly opposed the union efforts. In a video call leaked by pro-labor news outlet More Perfect Union, Schultz described unionizing workers as an “outside force” and accused them of “trying desperately to disrupt our company.”

Cuellar Serafini said it’s “laughable” to paint unionizing workers as a third party.

“We, as individuals right now, without a union ... we already feel like outsiders. We already feel like we can’t talk to our manager, even about small issues.”

The Starbucks workers at 21st and Amidon are organizing with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 513 in Wichita.

The union represents some city employees and nonteaching employees in the Wichita school district.

Daniel Caudill reports on Kansas state government for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. He was a general assignment reporter for KMUW and a reporter, photographer and digital content manager for The Derby Informer and an editor and reporter for The Sunflower. In the spring of 2020, Daniel helped cover the legislative session in Topeka as an intern for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @CaudillKMUW.