The upcoming workers’ vote could make Valparaiso home to Indiana’s second union, Starbucks

Workers at a Starbucks store in northern Indiana plan to vote to organize, according to an announcement Tuesday.

If successful, the Valparaiso store will become the second union location in Indiana. They would become part of the national union, Workers United, which represents over 270 Starbucks locations nationwide.

According to Reagan Skaggs, barista and member of the organizing committee, one of the main issues that prompted about 18 of more than 20 Valparaiso workers to sign union cards was the “really severe limitations” on their hours.

“Health insurance, sick leave, free time, all of these should be services that are available to us. However, these are earned benefits. You’re earned based on how many hours you have,” Skaggs said. “We’re having a really hard time getting our minimums to keep our health insurance.”

READ MORE: Clarksville Starbucks files for unionization, Indiana first

Starbucks offers some of the highest hourly wages for workers in its industry, starting at around $15 an hour.

“If we don’t make 40 hours, we don’t get a 40-hour paycheck,” she said. “We get a paycheck worth 30 hours or 20 hours or 12 hours. And that’s a lot less money to work with even at $15 an hour.”

A Starbucks spokesman denied those allegations in an emailed statement, saying the company is offering workers an opportunity to collect overtime at their stores and others nearby. They also found that part-time workers need only 240 hours every three months to meet eligibility requirements for health care and other benefits.

Workers hope to negotiate better hours, easier accumulation of benefits and a bigger gap between shifts so workers don’t close the store late and then come back at 5 a.m. to reopen it, Skaggs said.

In the emailed statement, the Starbucks spokesperson pointed to “$1 billion in partner-focused investments,” which the company said resulted in a median wage of $17 an hour and “other performance improvements, new training tools and a Series of store innovations” would have provided evidence that management can, and has already done, better respond to workers’ concerns without union interference.

“I don’t feel like that matches my experience,” Skaggs said. “We tried to talk to management, we tried to solve our problems that way. And it’s clear that they either aren’t able to listen or aren’t interested in listening.”

Some unionized stores did not receive all of this new investment. Starbucks argues that this is because federal law prohibits the company from making such changes during active negotiations. The union and National Labor Relations Board officials have claimed the company is withholding these benefits to “discourage” unionisation.

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Skaggs said she successfully got management to act on concerns when she first started working there about a year ago. She and other workers noticed they weren’t getting as many breaks as their printed schedules promised. After reporting the issue to the company’s Ethics and Compliance Line, it was resolved.

“There were some other issues in our business and with ethics and compliance [line was] not as effective anymore,” she said. “After that it seemed like we weren’t going to get any additional support or help from the company and we had to take care of that. So we contacted Workers United I think in March.”

Workers will vote over the next few months – and Skaggs is confident of support.

“I wouldn’t have started the ball rolling if I didn’t think we could do it,” Skaggs said.

The Valparaiso announcement comes weeks after baristas at Indiana’s first unionized Starbucks in Clarksville went on strike over allegations that the company refused to bargain with them in good faith. Workers there have claimed in interviews and in court that the company engaged in surveillance and other coercive measures to bust their union.

In previous statements, Starbucks called allegations of malicious negotiation “completely untrue.”

“It’s been really, really encouraging to see the business unionize in Clarksville and to know that it’s been able to do so in Indiana, where labor rights may not always be a top priority,” Skaggs said.

Workers United and Starbucks have both filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing each other of illegal activity in union shops across the country.

Contact Reporter Adam at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB.

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