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Wichita Starbucks workers reject union drive

Starbucks building mug
Daniel Caudill/KMUW
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Workers at the Starbucks store at 21st and Amidon in Wichita hope to be the first location in the city with a union. Organizers filed for a union vote with the NLRB on Friday.

The Starbucks workers at the 21st and Amidon store filed for a union vote in May, becoming the first in the city to do so.

A group of workers at a Wichita Starbucks has voted not to unionize.

The workers at the 21st and Amidon store filed for a union vote in May, becoming the first in the city to do so. They were trying to organize for better pay and hours, and a private space for employees who are nursing to pump breast milk.

Workers ultimately rejected the union drive on Monday in a 6-5 vote.

“It’s unfortunate, but I’m not surprised,” said Arden Ingram, a barista and the leading organizer at the Starbucks. “But I also don’t feel defeated at all.”

At the time of filing, organizers said about 70% of their coworkers supported the union effort.

But since the initial filing, Ingram said morale among workers had declined due to tensions with management and fears about their jobs and the future of the store.

“The entire process of unionizing is incredibly stressful,” she said. “With the conditions of our workplace, I think everyone kind of just wanted it to be over with.”

The National Labor Relations Board says workers at more than 300 Starbucks stores have filed for a union vote since workers in Buffalo, New York, successfully organized in December 2021.

Of the 211 stores with certified results, only 27 - or 13% - have voted not to unionize. The NLRB is also processing 254 unfair labor practice cases against Starbucks, including nine in the Kansas City region.

In an emailed statement sent before the Wichita vote, 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.”

While 26 workers were eligible to cast ballots in the Wichita vote, only 11 were mailed in for the count. Organizers say that means the union drive would have failed even if all the ballots were “yes” votes because it wouldn’t amount to a majority of the workers.

Despite the result, Ingram said she thinks she and her fellow organizers made an impact.

“My entire point of doing this wasn’t solely to unionize, it was to send a message to anyone who’s in the working class that their voice matters and that they have a say in the things that go on in their workplace,” she said.

“I think at the very least, we got a conversation around workers’ rights started.”

A second Wichita Starbucks store, located at Central and Rock, will have its ballot count on Aug. 16.

Daniel Caudill is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. He was 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.