EDITORIAL: United they pour

Baristas of the world, unite!

It was reported Thursday that Starbucks at Rodney Parham and Market Street in Little Rock will join a Starbucks in Fayetteville as two of the 410 stores represented by the Starbucks Workers United Union.

In all, there are 52 Starbucks locations in Arkansas; there's no word on whether any of the others plan to follow suit.

The union's demands are simple: Fair pay and hours, as well as safe working conditions.

Sounds reasonable. But one wonders: Do these conditions not already exist? In our java journeys we've never experienced what would be considered harsh working conditions.

And to the naked eye, it doesn't seem like Starbucks is hurting for employees to fill coffee-making positions, most of which, we assume, don't require college degrees and which may be currently filled by people going to college. But then again, we've never been in a position to offer a job to a budding barista.

The Starbucks Workers United Union may only account for 410 of the roughly 38,000 Starbucks stores worldwide, but that could change as Starbucks management has changed its tune related to labor unions.

According to Democrat-Gazette reporter John Magsam's story, in late February Starbucks released a statement that said in part, "Starbucks and Workers United have agreed to begin discussions on a foundational framework designed to achieve both collective bargaining agreements for represented stores and partners, and the resolution of litigation between the union and the company."

This is a far cry from some corporations that spend serious amounts of time, resources and effort trying to prevent unionization. Starbucks used to be among those. That was then, and this is now. It's uncertain why the company changed its tune, but it may be because there's only so much damage a Starbucks union can probably do when each store employs about 10-15 workers, some of whom are part-time.

While labor disputes have been in the news over the past year, actual membership in labor unions has fallen in recent years and reached a new low, as a percentage of workers, to around 10 percent in 2023.

Still, when we think of laborers, we think of workers tightening bolts on cars, construction workers building buildings and others who sweat--literally--in order to earn a paycheck. We know this is a short-sighted way to look at things because some of the largest unions in the world are, in fact, governmental and service industry workers.

So, now some Starbucks employees are included among the non-sweating kind of laborer. We're a little surprised it would happen in Arkansas, but as long as the price of a cuppa joe doesn't increase, does it matter?

That's the big question: Will unionization affect prices? If not, this is a one-day story. If the answer is yes, get ready for the complaints, Starbucks.

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