‘Starbucks works because we work’: Inside the formation of Durham’s first Starbucks union

Workers at the Durham Starbucks on Renaissance Parkway voted Dec. 11 to unionize, becoming the third Starbucks to unionize in the state and the first in the Triangle.

Russell Calzaretta, shift manager of the Starbucks on Durham’s Renaissance Parkway, said the thought of unionizing has always been in the back of his mind ever since the first Starbucks unionized over two years ago in Buffalo, New York. However, he believed that unionizing in a southern right-to-work state wasn’t a feasible goal. 

After a particularly demanding shift at the Renaissance Parkway Starbucks over the summer, Calzaretta began to wonder if support for a union was possible.

“I thought to myself, I was like, ‘I want to take this apron off. I want to leave this apron here and just never come back,’” said Russell Calzaretta, shift manager of the Starbucks on Durham’s Renaissance Parkway. 

Quiet talks began amongst the staff about union organization and five months later, the workers overwhelmingly voted to unionize.

Calzaretta first mentioned his desire to unionize with one of his coworkers. His concerns: low pay, inconsistent hours and a lack of healthcare benefits. 

After discovering that many of his colleagues would support efforts to unionize, Calzaretta spoke with a Starbucks Workers United representative and found that everything they had campaigned for aligned with Calzaretta’s concerns.

“I was talking to someone who, right before I got on the phone call with them, had just gotten off their shift at Starbucks, and they were dealing with the exact same things we were dealing with,” Calzaretta said. “[It’s] a little home for the Starbucks people who are going to demand more.”

But the operation was still kept under wraps, strictly between coworkers. Starbucks has a history of utilizing union-busting tactics to prevent their formation, something the Renaissance Parkway employees wanted to avoid. 

Calzaretta said a majority of the employees were on board with forming a union and being represented through SWU. However, he said that the corporation began to intervene through direct conversations once it caught wind of the efforts to unionize.

But the store employees were firm in their support for unionizing, something Calzaretta attributed to the partners' backgrounds and the effort's collectiveness. The staff comprises many people who felt mistreated at previous workplaces, including teachers who are “underpaid, overworked.”

“We respect our partners’ right to organize, freely associate, engage in lawful union activities and bargain collectively without fear of reprisal or retaliation,” a spokesman for Starbucks wrote in a statement to Indy Week. “While we continue to believe we can do more to elevate the partner experience at Starbucks by working shoulder-to-shoulder than across a negotiating table, we respect our [partners’] decision at our Renaissance Center Durham location to elect union representation.”

The Durham Starbucks voted to unionize in a 16-2 vote on Dec. 11. Calzaretta says the support for this cause was overwhelming, and it couldn’t have been done with each and every partner at the store.

Calzaretta believes that this union victory is a reminder that workers’ rights are an ongoing issue in Durham and the South as a whole.

“Starbucks works because we work … We're right here, we're not stepping down,” Calzaretta said.

Claire Cranford

Claire Cranford is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.       


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