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Southern California's First Union Starbucks Stores Could Be Only Weeks Away As Workers Begin Crucial Vote

A group of people stand together for a photo in front of a Starbucks sign with their fists in the air.
Employees from the Long Beach and Lakewood store during last weekend's rallies.
(Courtesy Tyler Keelling)
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The most important time for Starbucks employees in Lakewood and Long Beach seeking to unionize is underway.

Both stores began the voting process Monday as ballots were sent out. The votes will be tallied on May 13, and the outcome could bring Southern California its first unionized store in what's now a nationwide movement.

“It almost doesn't feel real,” said Josie Serrano, a barista on the union committee in Long Beach. “It feels like we've been working towards this for such a long time. It's just really crazy for it to be here.”

Serrano’s store is at Redondo Avenue and 7th Street in Long Beach. The team from that store and a location on Candlewood Street in Lakewood have worked together since filing for unionization in early March. Serrano and Tyler Keeling, a barista trainer leading the Lakewood effort, are focused on getting their coworkers to vote and the teams held rallies last week.

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“I have no concerns about us winning,” Keeling said. “The margin in which we win will be huge.”

That prophesy comes at a time Starbucks has escalated its anti-union efforts. The employees say their managers and corporate leaders have increased their presence at the locations, cut hours and removed pro-union notes from Starbucks property.

During the Long Beach rally, Serrano said customers were encouraged to mobile order drinks under the name “union strong.” Pro-union workers encouraged that choice knowing it had been popular at the Lakewood location the day before. That ended, Serrano said, when their manager turned off the mobile order function, saying it was related to an employee calling out of work.

When LAist reached out to Starbucks to clarify whether this was standard practice during callouts, a spokesperson said the coffee giant didn’t “have data or information relative” to the question.

The View From Headquarters

Earlier this month, Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz visited the Long Beach area to hold a “collaboration session,” an intimate conversation with a small group of people.

Mads Hall, an employee from another Long Beach store who was invited to the session held near the Long Beach Airport, described being shushed and shut down about union discussions during the meeting.

“He said that ‘we're not talking about that’ over and over again, cutting me off,” Hall recalled.

The Starbucks spokesperson also declined to verify whether the CEO had said this in the recorded meeting, citing the lack of data. Hall’s store in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach has filed to unionize.

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As reported by LAist, the first store to file for unionization in L.A. County was a location in Chatsworth, a filing that experienced legal delays, according to Starbucks Workers United. Next in the voting process is a store in Little Tokyo and another in Los Alamitos, which is set to begin sending ballots on May 3 and hold their own rallies.

“There are more stores that are going to go through, honestly an even more aggressive campaign from corporate the further we go,” Serrano said. “They're going to need extra support.”

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