Unifying Starbucks Inspired by Bernie Sanders

Starbucks allows employees who work at least 20 hours a week to get health insurance, more generously than most competitors, and has said it will increase the average wage for hourly employees to nearly $17 an hour this summer, well above the industry standard. The company also offers to pay the tuition fees of employees admitted to pursue an online undergraduate degree at Arizona State University, thereby helping it attract employees with college aspirations.

Such people, in turn, tend to sympathize with unions and a variety of social activism. A recent Gallup poll found that people under 35 or liberal are significantly more likely to support unions than others.

Several Starbucks employees looking to unionize in Buffalo; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Knoxville, Tennessee; Tallahassee, Florida; and the Denver area seemed to fit this profile, saying they were either strong supporters of Mr. Sanders and other progressive politicians, or had college degrees or both. Most were under 30.

“I’ve been involved in political organization, the Bernie Sanders campaign,” said Brick Zurek, a union campaign leader at a Starbucks in Chicago. “That gave me a lot of skill.” mx. Zurek, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, also said they had a bachelor’s degree.

Len Harris, who helped lead a campaign at a Starbucks near Denver, said, “I admire the progressivism and sense of community” of politicians like Mr. Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. She said she had graduated from college and was waiting for graduate school admissions decisions.

And most union supporters have been inspired by their colleagues in Buffalo. Sydney Durkin and Rachel Ybarra, who help organize a Starbucks in Seattle, said employees at their store discussed the Buffalo campaign almost daily as it unfolded and that the union had been contacted after the National Labor Relations Board announced first results of the Buffalo elections in December. (The union’s second win was announced Monday, after the labor council resolved the voting challenges.)

Ms. Ybarra said the victory showed workers that it was possible to join a union despite opposition from the company. “The Buffalo people became superheroes,” she said. “Many of us spent so much time fearing retaliation — none of us could afford to lose our jobs, reduce our hours.”

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