Workers at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, NY, voted to join the Workers United union, making it the first company-owned location in the U.S. to do so.

The store on Elmwood Avenue was one of three locations where workers were to vote. One of the three rejected union representation while a third election in Cheektowaga has yet to be decided. Workers at the Cheektowaga store appear ready to join the union with 15 voting in favor and nine against. The decision will not be final, however, until seven ballots that have been challenged are reviewed.

Starbucks also faces organizing activity at three other locations in the Buffalo area as well as at a store in Mesa, AZ. The four stores have filed petitions to hold union elections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and are pending.

Workers United’s success in Buffalo has many questioning if Starbucks and others may now face tougher fights trying to keep unions out.

Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president and president of North America, told The Associated Press that staffing shortages and equipment problems in Buffalo created conditions that the company did not handle adequately. She said that Starbucks has hired more than 200 new employees in recent months and opened a training center to address the concerns of its workers in the market.

The number of unionized workers in the U.S. has dropped in recent decades, but public opinion about labor representation is trending upward. Recode, citing Gallup numbers, reports that union favorability among the public (68 percent) is at its highest level since 1965.

“Although it’s a small number of workers, the result has huge symbolic importance and symbols are important when it comes to union organizing,” John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University, told The New York Times. “Workers who want to form a union in the United States are forced to take a considerable amount of risk, and it helps if they can see others who have taken that risk and it has paid off.”



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