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Starbucks employees in South Burlington move to unionize and hope others will follow suit

A person in a purple jacket holds a coffee cup outside a shopping plaza.
Henry Epp
/
VPR
Gaz Romp, a barista at the Shelburne Road Starbucks, is organizing an effort to unionize employees at the store, amid a national unionization push among Starbucks employees.

Employees at the Starbucks on Shelburne Road in South Burlington have notified the company of their intent to form a union, and hope workers at other store locations in Vermont will follow their lead.

The South Burlington store could become the first unionized Starbucks location in the state. It joins a nationwide unionization push at the coffee chain that began last year in Buffalo, New York and has spread to over 200 stores around the country. Employees are seeking higher wages, more consistent schedules, better training for new workers and clearer paths to advance within the company.

Gaz Romp, a barista who helped organize the union effort, said they've had trouble affording housing in the Burlington area on their current salary. Romp said that led them to talk with their coworkers over Discord, an online messaging platform, about forming a union.

Romp and a majority of their nearly 20 coworkers signed union cards, and are now waiting for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to schedule a union election.

“We’re optimistic, we’re very confident,” Romp said in an interview with VPR. “At the same time, we’re doing this because we love working at Starbucks.”

Company leadership has opposed the nationwide union push, though Starbucks recently committed to raising its minimum wage, and raising wages for employees with at least two years of experience by 5%.

“We appreciate any help, but we’re still unionizing,” Romp said with a laugh. “We're still going to do that, because we believe firmly that a collective workforce can negotiate way more fairly with the second-largest fast food company on earth."

In a statement, a Starbucks spokesperson said they believe the company and its employees are “better together as partners, without a union between us.” The spokesperson adds the company respects workers’ right to organize, “and are committed to following the NLRB process.”

The Shelburne Road store is one of 11 Starbucks location in Vermont, some of which are company-owned, while others are licensed to other owners. Romp said they hope employees at other Starbucks locations will also take steps to organize.

"I believe that every store in our district and in the country should consider filing, along with any place where there's a housing crisis or where you're not being paid enough,” they said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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Henry is a reporter covering business, the economy and infrastructure at Vermont Public. He's also co-host of The Frequency, Vermont Public's daily news podcast, along with Anna Van Dine. Henry came to Vermont Public in 2017, and worked as the station's host of All Things Considered until November 2021. Prior to that, he was a reporter and host of Morning Edition at New England Public Media in western Massachusetts. A graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Henry was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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