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The New York Times reports that "employees at a Buffalo-area Starbucks store have voted to form a union, making it the only one of the nearly 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States to be organized and notching an important symbolic victory for labor at a time when workers across the country are expressing frustration with wages and working conditions.

"The result, announced on Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board, represents a major challenge to the labor model at the giant coffee retailer, which has argued that its workers enjoy some of the best wages and benefits in the retail and restaurant industry and don’t need a union.

"The union was leading in an election at another store, but by a margin smaller than the number of ballots the union was seeking to disqualify through challenges. The challenges must be resolved by the labor agency’s regional director in the coming days or weeks before there is a result. Workers at a third store voted against unionizing, according to the board, though a union lawyer contended that some ballots had been delivered to the agency and not counted."

The unionized employees will now join Workers United, an affiliate of the giant Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

KC's View:

Let's be clear.  This is symbolic.  It is one store out of more than 15,000 in the US.

But … symbols are important.

Starbucks argued that unionization would disrupt what it characterized as the unique relationship that it has with its store employees, but clearly there is at least one store where workers thought they could do better.  

Now we'll see what happens next.  How does Starbucks respond?  To what degree dopes this vote light the fuse on a broader unionization effort around the country?

It has to be pointed out that this all is happening at a time of enormous labor upheaval.  Workers have more power than at any recent time, people are quitting jobs because they are dissatisfied with treatment and compensation, or just want something better.  And more companies than ever are upping their game, simply because they have to.

I don't think that unionization is going to solve all the issues that Starbucks' employees may have with the company, and I think it is fair to say that union representation will straitjacket Starbucks to some degree.

But here's the deal.  Some companies have opened the door to unionization efforts by not creating stakeholder cultures that nurture and invest in employees.  Unions know an opportunity when they see one, so expect this trend to gain greater traction.

Here's a prediction:  Within the next year, at least one Amazon facility will vote to unionize.