Pape and Danforth Starbucks becomes the first Toronto location to unionize

A coffee shop.
Workers at this Starbucks at Pape and Danforth voted to join the United Steelworks union in early March. (James Bullanoff/Toronto Observer) 

A Starbucks along the Danforth has become the first Toronto location to join a union. 

The United Steelworkers (USW) union recently announced that this is the first step in acquiring other Toronto locations. However, some have raised concerns it may affect the store’s ability to remain open. Some union organizers suggest Starbucks to be a known union buster.

Joining USW

During a vote on March 6 and 7, employees at the Pape and Danforth location voted yes to joining USW. The union did not release the specific results of the vote.

“In a world that is hostile to workers and increasingly becoming more precarious for us, having protections in place outside of those dictated by the company, as well as a shot at accessing a living wage, is more important than ever,” said Jo Price, an employee at the Danforth location in a media statement issued by USW. 

“We started this campaign because we intrinsically know our worth. We know that we are the foundation of our store and the company and we deserve to be valued and respected as such.”

The Danforth location is the fourth Starbucks location in Ontario to unionize, alongside Ajax, Kitchener, and most recently Waterloo. USW also represents Starbucks workers in Alberta and British Columbia. They are the largest private-sector union in North America, representing 225,000 members across Canada.

A Starbucks Canada spokesperson told the Observer that “Starbucks has always been committed to bargaining in good faith.”

In an emailed statement, Starbucks said the company “believes that a direct relationship as partners (employees) is core to the culture and experiences we create in our stores. However, we respect the right of all partners to make their own decisions regarding unions, whether they favour or oppose representation.”

USW also took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to welcome the Starbucks location to the union. 

Fighting for benefits 

While some might assume Starbucks workers are fighting for fair wages, that’s not the case, according to Darlene Jalbert, USW Organizing Co-ordinator for District 6.

“It’s really about the policies of Starbucks. What seems to be good policies are not actually used in the store,” she said in an interview.

“What the workers at Starbucks want is a rulebook, a set of rules that the employer is going to be held to, and that they can count on.” 

WATCH | Toronto Starbucks votes to join union:

One example Jalbert described is Starbucks cancelling employees’ shifts to avoid providing them with a benefits package for completing a certain amount of hours.

Workers at the Danforth location declined to comment on the impacts the union will have on their work. 

Union busting 

However, union organizers say Starbucks has been known to be a predominant union buster in the industry, and that USW must find ways to keep word of their progress under wraps. 

“Starbucks is very, very anti-union. The moment that they find out that we’re working on a certain store, they’re in there showing anti-union videos and pretty much scaring the crap out of people,” said Jalbert. 

Users on Reddit have also been questioning the longevity of the location now that it has joined a union. One user wrote that they are “taking bets on how long until the Pape and Danforth location is closed after being characterized as underperforming.”

This comes months after Indigo closed one of three unionized locations in Scarborough that many employees have called union busting. 

Future stores 

While the process for unionizing Starbucks locations can be long, USW is working to organize more Toronto locations.

“Every week, there’s more calls. Every week more campaigns have been started … it’s a matter of getting them to the finish line,” said Jalbert. 

“Workers across industries often look to the Steelworkers to represent them and their interests at work and Starbucks partners are no different. They want fair compensation, a healthy and safe workplace and a work environment where they are valued,” said Myles Sullivan, USW District 6 Director (Ontario and Atlantic Canada) in the release.

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Posted: Apr 13 2024 10:53 am
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About the Author

James Bullanoff
James Bullanoff is a third-year journalism specialist at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC). He is the Deputy News Editor at the Varsity, U of T's tri-campus newspaper. He is also featured in the Annex Gleaner.