Merrifield Starbucks becomes first in Fairfax County to unionize

Starbucks at 3046 Gatehouse Plaza in Merrifield (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A Starbucks in Merrifield has unionized.

About a month after filing a petition for an election, workers at the cafe at 3046 Gate House Plaza voted 30-2 in support of forming a union on Friday (April 22), becoming the coffee company’s first store in Fairfax County to take that step.

“My first reaction was just happiness,” employee and organizer Claudia Sol said. “We’re all very proud of each other for what we were able to accomplish…It’s pretty amazing to see all the work that our store did to be able to unionize, and we’re looking forward to what’s to come.”

Some local elected officials, including Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik and Del. Marcus Simon (D-53), stopped by the store both before and after the vote to show their support for its unionizing efforts.

“Everyone deserves a good union job with fair pay, quality health care, and rights at work,” SEIU Virginia 512 President David Broder said. “The Merrifield Starbucks workers’ overwhelming vote to unionize is an historic moment and yet another sign that working people in Fairfax County are organizing for an economy that works for all of us.”

The landslide victory came just nine days after union proponents suffered a defeat in Springfield, where Starbucks workers voted 10-8 against unionizing on April 13.

While she doesn’t have any direct knowledge of what happened in Springfield, Sol says she heard that the district manager was “really aggressive” when talking to workers one-on-one in the lead-up to their election.

Organizers told NPR that Starbucks cut their hours and warned benefits and promotions would be at risk if they unionized, though the company has denied engaging in union-busting activities. Workers United, the union that employees hoped to join, filed charges against Starbucks last week, alleging retaliation, coercive threats, and other issues to the National Labor Relations Board.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country,” a Starbucks spokesperson said. “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.”

When asked about the filed complaints, the spokesperson reiterated that Starbucks is committed to following the NLRB’s process.

At the Merrifield store, Sol says their district manager and other members of the regional corporate team started visiting more frequently after the union petition was filed, but they didn’t interact with employees much until the week before the election.

At that point, the corporate team held one-on-one meetings with workers where they argued that a union would be an unnecessary “third party” and urged everyone to vote in the coming election, according to Sol, who noted that while the union would be part of Workers United, the actual contract negotiations will be done by employees on a store-by-store basis.

“I think the reason that they were trying to get the entire store to vote was probably because they were hoping that there were going to be more ‘no’ votes than ‘yes’ votes, and that would make it so that we wouldn’t have a union,” Sol said. “But that backfired.”

The Merrifield store is the 28th Starbucks in the U.S. to unionize since a Buffalo, New York, store led the way in December, and over 220 stores in 31 states have now filed for elections, according to Starbucks Workers United.

The union said in a statement that it’s “proud and excited” to add the Merrifield store to the bargaining table and that it’s petitioning for federal relief to get store organizers who were allegedly fired for union activities reinstated.

“We are not standing for Starbucks’ threats, fear-mongering and intimidation and we will continue to fight for our right to organize,” SB Workers United said.

Now that the store has unionized, Sol says they will select employees to form a bargaining committee. They will then undergo training on contract negotiations and determine what everyone’s priorities are.

She anticipates two top priorities will be raises and a restoration of the food benefits that Starbucks introduced early in the pandemic — where workers got one free food item per day regardless of whether they worked that day — but later scaled back.

“I know that’s very important for some people,” Sol said. “We don’t know their economic situation, and it could be that maybe that’s their one meal of the day, so I think that’s one of the things we definitely want to see if we can try and bring that back.”