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'It's unbelievable': St. Louis labor leaders report unprecedented interest in unionization

Several St. Louis Starbucks have indicated they will organize, while employees at Root 66 cannabis dispensary finalized their unionization Monday.

ST. LOUIS — Cars pull up to the Starbucks on Hampton Avenue Monday, but workers are doing more than filling orders, they're organizing.

 "This is about fulfilling our partnership with Starbucks and providing a guarantee for the longevity of our careers here," shift supervisor Riley Staack said. 

Staack's father was in a firefighter union for about 25 years, so she said she was aware of the benefits when she saw other Starbucks locations move to organize.

"In Buffalo, in Seattle, and Arizona," she said listing some of the approximately 150 company-owned coffee locations to file unionization forms.

With 23 employees, the Hampton staff filed their intention to unionize Monday, joining three other St. Louis stores to do so.

"We have more activity now than I have had in my 34 years on staff. It's unbelievable," UFCW Local 655 President David Cook said.

Cook's union added new members Monday when Root 66 medical marijuana dispensary voted to join the group.

"When you have some victories, people gain real wage increases and protection on the job, you are going to see more people flocking to the movement or taking to the street to demand that their jobs are recognized," Cook said.

Unions have seen declining interest for decades. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says about 10% of Americans were union workers in 2021, about half as many as in 1983 when the same category reached just over 20%.

"You're seeing that labor unions are definitely organizing at a higher rate than they ever have in modern history over the past 20 years," Braxton Payne, a labor union consultant for Show Me Victories, said.

Payne says labor union popularity rates are close to 70%, the highest they've reached since the 80s. He says the change is largely an effect of the pandemic.

"You know bosses can promise raises and bonuses and 'hero pay' as we saw during the pandemic, but that is all temporary. If you have a union contract, that is guaranteed," he said.

Staack says they were told a unionization vote could take anywhere between three weeks and three months.

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