ITHACA, N.Y.—The quick-moving unionization effort at Ithaca’s three Starbucks locations has proven victorious after votes were tabulated from stores in downtown Ithaca, on South Meadow Street and in Collegetown. Organizers say it is the first municipality to have all of its Starbucks locations vote to unionize.

Employees gathered at the Tompkins County Workers Center on Friday afternoon to watch the count, conducted by a labor board official via Zoom. The vote followed announcements on Thursday that more Starbucks stores in Buffalo and Rochester had successfully voted to unionize.

The Collegetown location voted 19-1 in favor of unionization with Workers United, setting off confident cheers from the gathered crowd of about two dozen gathered employees and friends. The South Meadow Street location followed, voting 13-1 (the South Meadow Street location opened merely a few months ago). Finally, the Starbucks location on East Seneca Street voted 15-1 in favor of unionizing. In total, about 75 employees work at Starbucks in Ithaca.

“The whole f*cking city!” shouted one employee.

The reaction after the first successful vote, for Collegetown. (Photo by Jimmy Jordan) Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

Starbucks stores across the country have formed a wave of unionization in the past several months, arguing for better pay, more rights for workers and better treatment from Starbucks management. Locally, several official had signed a letter last month requesting that Starbucks decision-makers voluntarily recognize the unions being formed among the Ithaca locations.

At a news conference held after the successful votes, barista Evan Sunshine said the workers intend to ask for the elimination of healthcare premiums and a mandated tip system that would pay workers more money per hour. Fellow barista Virgil Taylor said he wants the company to commit to more regular work hours.

Several workers explained what they felt were union-busting tactics employed by Starbucks management once they discovered workers were unionizing—Sunshine detailed one-on-one meetings and hovering supervisors as potential intimidation strategies to encourage workers not to support the effort.

Another worker, Caroline, had attempted to unionize an Ithaca Starbucks location two years ago but said “the timing wasn’t right.” The sweeping victory came as a great relief to her after seven years at the company, wishing to unionize for most of that time.

Organizers said they were helped by nearby workers who had helped unionize other Starbucks locations, as well as meeting with workers from the Sciencenter in Ithaca, which also voted to unionize recently.

The press conference was briefly Zoom-bombed by ostensibly anti-union interlopers using recorded videos of what sounded like babies babbling or crying. It did not deter workers.

The Starbucks location on East Seneca Street. (Photo by Alyvia Covert)

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com