COLUMBIA, S.C. — Workers at the Starbucks on Millwood Avenue in Columbia are on strike after they said they have received backlash from the company while trying to unionize.
“Our manager was fired and that was kind of a breaking point for us.” said Barista Sarah Grace Chandler. Chandler Tells News 19 the efforts to unionize started in January, but the process began in early March.
“We decided to unionize so that we could have a seat at the table," said Chandler. "We really are the ones that do a lot of the work, we’re on the front lines, so its only fair."
Workers are asking for better benefits, more staffing, and higher pay, according to barista trainer and one of the strike's organizers Sophie Ryan.
“A lot of people enjoy what they do here and they should be able to make a living doing what they enjoy to do," said Ryan. "I should be able to afford my college apartment rent working at Starbucks 38 hours a week.”
Ryan said workers will continue to strike until their concerns are addressed. News19 reached out to Starbucks for comment. They did not address workers claims or concerns, saying in a statement in part:
“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process.”
The Millwood store is holding its union election May 26. Starbucks stores in Anderson and Sumter have also petitioned to unionize.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina is the least unionized state in the country, with labor unions representing 3.8% of the workforce.
“We've been very slow to unionize in South Carolina to any degree," said employment law attorney Lewis Cromer. The biggest reason for that is because of the state's right-to work laws.
“The employees still have a right to either reject or approve their own personal membership in the union," said Cromer. "But if they join the union, the union becomes their bargaining agent.”