MADISON, Wis. -- Workers at the State Street Starbucks allege attempted union busting by the company ahead of next week's union election.
Employees at the State Street location filed a petition to unionize on April 18 and will vote on whether to make the union official next Thursday.
"I think it was a long time coming," said Matthew Cartwright, a shift manager at the State Street location and one of the union organizers. "They don’t feel respected. They don’t feel heard, and they feel like they’re disposable."
But Cartwright said ever since he started talking about unionizing, it's been clear that Starbucks doesn't support it.
"It was when a public statement had been made about possibly unionizing that my job was directly threatened," Cartwright said.
After they filed their petition, he alleges things at work started to change.
"Pretty soon after, we started seeing an increased presence of upper management," Cartwright said. "Kind of stopping in more, would literally just appear in the store sometimes to say hello."
Starbucks said in a statement to News 3 Now that the increased presence is normal ahead of a union vote.
"Members of our Partner Relations team regularly visit stores in advance of union representation elections to help ensure compliance with the complex patchwork of U.S. labor law and to share factual information, including voting logistics with partners," the company said.
But Cartwright claims that isn't the full story.
"In reality what this looked like was this person from HR pulling someone aside -- against their will in some cases -- pulling them into our upper café, literally into a corner, in which to basically tell them that they are wrong for unionizing," he said.
Those conversations, he added, were demeaning and intimidating.
"[They said], 'I’m not going to tell you how to vote but, you know, you don’t have all the information, you’ve been misled, you’re not educated enough to make this decision, so let me educate you,'" Cartwright said.
Cartwright said the Starbucks representative gave employees information he says isn't true.
"They told one partner that their union dues would be $60 a week," he said. "I know that benefits were threatened. I know that they tried to pose it as the union would threaten the benefits, as in the union would take away your benefits, but it was very clear that’s not what they were saying. They would say, you know, 'I know you really rely on this medical care benefit,' or 'I know you really rely on your college benefit; wouldn’t it be a shame if that just went away? Wouldn’t that be just awful for you?'"
Starbucks responded to the allegations saying:
"The allegations made by Workers United are inaccurate and unfounded. At those stores where our partners have chosen to petition for a union representation election, our focus is to ensure that they can trust the process is fair and their voice is heard. We respect the right of all partners to make their own decisions about union representation without fear of reprisal or retaliation. Starbucks policy strictly prohibits any retaliatory behavior directed toward partners who are interested in a union."
But Cartwright said despite the actions he calls attempted union busting, he and his coworkers are still moving forward with their plans to unionize.
"Starbucks keeps doing this thing where they try and union bust only to make unions stronger," Cartwright said. "And what they don’t seem to understand is that the more you push workers, the more you push partners, the more you try and suppress democracy, the harder we’re going to fight for it. When your goal is simply to be respected, to be treated right, and to have democracy, you can’t be bought, and you can’t be sold, and you can’t be intimidated."
He expects next week's vote to go as planned.
"I think it’s actually only reinforced the energy, and so I fully expect that on June 1 we are going to have an overwhelming if not unanimous victory," he said.
Last year, another Starbucks location in Madison -- on the Capitol Square -- voted in favor of unionization.
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