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A Lafayette Starbucks appears to have rejected unionizing; vote close enough to change

A Starbucks sign hangs over the building of the downtown Birmingham store, May 11, 2022. A Starbucks in Lafayette, Louisiana recently filed a petition to hold a union election.
Stephan Bisaha/Gulf States Newsroom
A Starbucks sign hangs over the building of the downtown Birmingham store, May 11, 2022. A Starbucks in Lafayette, Louisiana voted against unionizing on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

Starbucks workers at a store in Lafayette, Louisiana voted against unionizing Wednesday for now, making it one of few to do so during a wave of union victories within the coffee giant.

Baristas and shift supervisors at the store located at 4300 Ambassador Caffery Parkway voted nine to eight against joining Workers United, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.

The unionization defeat could be overturned, though, as four ballots were challenged before the votes were tallied by National Labor Relations Board officials.

A challenge to a ballot can be made by either the union or employer before it is counted. From there, officials set the ballot aside without making a judgment on whether or not the challenge is valid. If the tally is close enough that the challenged ballots can overturn the election, like in this store’s case, the union or employer can ask for a hearing to review the ballots.

Ballots can be dismissed for a number of reasons, such as someone not being an employee when they cast their vote. It’s unclear if the ballots were challenged by the union or Starbucks.

The union election happened after more than a third of the store’s employees signed a petition to unionize in July. The organizer said unionizing was a last resort after the coffee giant failed to address complaints about poor management and an unsafe work environment.

According to the NLRB, 238 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize as of September 13. The Starbucks union wave was set in motion after stores in Buffalo voted to join the union in December, a first for Starbucks. In June, a Starbucks in New Orleans became the first to unionize in Louisiana. A store in Birmingham, Alabama also unionized a week prior.

But negotiating a first union contract has been slow and Starbucks has pushed back against unions, saying they make it harder for the company to address worker needs. It also recently announced new benefits, such as a student loan repayment tool and savings account program, but only at stores that have not unionized.

The NLRB currently has 326 open unfair labor practice charges filed against Starbucks. A federal judge recently ordered the company to rehire 7 workers in Memphis the NLRB said were illegally fired.

While most Starbucks that have held union elections have voted in favor of unionizing, about 53 have voted against joining.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration among Mississippi Public BroadcastingWBHM in Alabama and WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR.

Stephan Bisaha is the wealth and poverty reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a regional collaboration between NPR and member stations in Alabama (WBHM), Mississippi (MPB) and Louisiana (WWNO and WRKF). He reports on the systemic drivers of poverty in the region and economic development.