Baristas and other workers from three stores voted whether to unionize. Starbucks fought the plan. Now



And this was the moment workers at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, N.Y., realized they had enough votes to form a union.



KELLY: It's a first for Starbucks in the U.S., but there were different outcomes at two other stores nearby that also voted on unionization. NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to give us the latest. And I want to note that Starbucks is among NPR's recent financial supporters. Alina Selyukh, hey there.


KELLY: Hello, hello. Tell us a little bit more about what happened today.

SELYUKH: Well, the headline is it's a big win for labor because restaurant workers are among the least unionized in the U.S. And it's a watershed moment for Starbucks and its workers. Until now, there had not been a single store run by Starbucks in the U.S. that was unionized, and that's almost 9,000 stores. Last year one location in Canada unionized, and now one store in Buffalo voted to do so as well. So workers there are celebrating, as we heard, but also gearing up for another challenge, which is negotiating a union contract with Starbucks. My colleague Tom Dinki at the Buffalo member station WBFO spoke to Lexi Rizzo, one of the organizers.

LEXI RIZZO: If we can negotiate a good contract for one store in Buffalo - we just need one. If we can have one union Starbucks with a good contract, we win because other stores will see that as an example.

KELLY: And, Alina, what is it they want in this contract? What are the workers asking for?

SELYUKH: The organizers have advocated for better staffing, better training and better pay that actually increases over time. They say a worker who's been there a decade might make just a little bit more than a new hire, for example. Rizzo also talked about how, when she joined Starbucks years ago, she did feel like it was the company it presented itself to be. You know, it has this reputation of a progressive employer with generous benefits. But pro-union workers argue it's been changing, and they want a voice in whether it's changing for the better.

KELLY: Now, this was just, again, one store that voted to unionize today. The vote went differently at two others.

SELYUKH: Yes. In an election, you can have a victory, a loss and a failure to reach a verdict. And today we got one of each. One store voted in favor of unionizing at a ratio of more than 2 to 1. The second store voted against unionizing, not quite at the same ratio. The third store got complicated. There were more votes in favor than against unionizing, but there were enough ballots that were challenged and not counted to make a difference. The union argued that some of the workers who voted weren't actually regular employees at the store. So that election faces a legal battle.

KELLY: What is Starbucks saying?

SELYUKH: Starbucks has argued a union wasn't necessary. In recent weeks, the company had flown in lots of corporate executives to Buffalo. Then it announced a bunch of changes, including higher starting pay and seniority bonuses. Today the company's North America president wrote to workers about how everyone at the company is a partner, saying for now, the vote doesn't mean any immediate change and that it won't affect, quote, "our shared purpose of how we will show up for each other."

KELLY: And just briefly, are we watching for other Starbucks to follow suit?

SELYUKH: That's exactly right. There are already four additional Starbucks stores pursuing a union - three more around Buffalo and one in Arizona. In the past, Starbucks had fought off organizing in New York City and Philadelphia, so we'll be watching those areas as well.

KELLY: NPR's Alina Selyukh. Thanks.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.