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A Starbucks in Mililani could become the first unionized location in Hawaiʻi

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Efforts for Starbucks locations to unionize have gone off across the nation, and one Mililani location is trying to become the first unionized Starbucks in Hawaiʻi.

Staff at the Mililani Shopping Center Starbucks won’t know if they have the votes to unionize until next week, but one organizer, Nate Jaramillo, is cautiously optimistic.

“People just want to get to the count already, so I have no reason to believe that, you know, the vote would turn out any other way than ‘yes,’ because I think that we have the majority,” Jaramillo said Tuesday. “But I'm not going to assume that we've won.”

It all began back in January when the Mililani store was expected to close for about a week. Baristas and staff members were temporarily reassigned to nearby stores, and their hours were drastically cut.

But that one week turned into three weeks of shifting schedules among the three stores. And when they came back to their original store, employees reported less business.

“It took a lot to go to work and know that it wasn't going to cut it for that week,” Jaramillo said. “Your wages were going to be cut because of hours not being given to us.”

At the same time, employees saw national news coverage of a union vote at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York. NPR reports around 220 Starbucks stores nationwide have sought elections, with more added every day.

University of Hawai’i Law Professor Ron Brown said what happened at the Mililani Shopping Center store was two-fold: one part motivation and one part inspiration.

“The first observation was that they felt very unhappy about losing their job at their location that maybe they live near, and their wages and all that stuff,” Brown said. “So usually, when employees want to improve themselves and improve their economic well-being, they often unionize. So that was their motivation. And then they were probably inspired by seeing Amazon and the other coffee places, unionizing. So they said, ‘Why not here?’”

Jaramillo reached out to the Starbucks Workers United union to learn more about how they got their start.

“I was really curious about what unionization would need from us to happen or like what it would take to do out here because, as far as I had known, no other stores had really made a push for it," Jaramillo said.

Mililani employees, known as partners at Starbucks, began discussing what it would mean to organize. By Feb. 11, they went public with their intent, seeking fairer wages and hours.

Mail ballots went out about two weeks ago and the final count is slated to be announced Monday, May 2.

About 13 members are eligible to vote at the store, with managers and shift supervisors excluded.

In a statement, a Starbucks spokesperson wrote that the company is better together without a union, but will respect the rights of employees to organize, as required by the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRB region based in Phoenix has sued Starbucks for allegedly retaliating against three employees who were involved in organizing a union, NPR reports.

Corrected: April 29, 2022 at 9:05 AM HST
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Starbucks location as Mililani Town Center. It is located in Mililani Shopping Center.
Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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