This article was written by Victor Ocasio for Newsday.
Workers at a Starbucks in Westbury, many of them in their teens, filed a petition Thursday with the federal government to unionize, making it the third Long Island location whose staff has done so since February.
Organizers for the coffee shop at the Gallery at Westbury Plaza submitted 19 signed cards from a staff of 24 workers in favor of holding a vote to have a union represent them. The shop's staff joins a growing movement from stores around the country that have sought to unionize since late last year.
The workers are seeking to be recognized as part of Workers United New York New Jersey Regional Board, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
A representative with Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.
Employees at three other New York Starbucks — in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Astoria, Queens; and Nanuet, Rockland County — also filed petitions Thursday, according to Workers United. The stores' workers are seeking a mail-in union election to start May 5 with the National Labor Relations Board.
"The Starbucks Partners at the Westbury location have demonstrated tremendous courage thus far and will undoubtedly face many obstacles between now and the conclusion of their election," John R. Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, said in a statement Thursday. "Their commitment will be tested. We stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with them and will support their efforts to secure better wages, dignity and respect in the workplace."
Workers at the Gallery Starbucks follow union efforts at Starbucks in Great Neck and Massapequa, which both began receiving mail-in ballots for their elections starting April 8. Organizers at a Farmingville store are gathering signatures from fellow employees to petition for a vote, Workers United said.
Workers from more than 200 Starbucks nationwide have made public their intentions to unionize, according to Workers United.
To date, 22 elections have been conducted, resulting in 20 union victories and two challenged elections, the union said in a statement Thursday.
“There’s been a sense of discontent at my store with my fellow workers for the past several months,” said Jen Dunn, 32, a shift supervisor at the Westbury Starbucks.
“We are chronically understaffed because of labor hour restrictions,” said Dunn, who has worked at the shop since September 2020.
Dunn said that because hours are dictated at a higher management level than her individual store, schedules often give workers less than 20 hours per week, the necessary threshold for Starbucks employees to qualify for benefits like health insurance.
Dunn said the store’s employees tend to be younger, with some as young as 16, and that a few were unsure of what a union is.
“It sounded to me like ... they don’t really touch on unions that much these days in history class,” Dunn said. But after explaining what a union could do for the workers, her younger colleagues became supportive of the effort.
“I do have to say my particular team of children, as I call them, are very smart,” she said .
Another employee organizer at the Westbury shop, Ashley Larsen, 19, said the union push at her store is largely about stability and creating a line of open, regular communication with management.
Larsen, a history major at Adelphi University who has worked at Starbucks for nearly a year, said communication problems have led to many situations where workers "have to scramble" to keep the store functioning.
“The understaffing stressed everybody out at our location," she said.
While she said confronting one of the largest corporations in the United States has been "nerve-wracking," especially for a teen, Larsen said that she and her co-workers are "making a huge change for the better."
“We just want to be able to discuss our concerns with management and see something done with it,” Larsen said. “We want to be taken more seriously than we are.”