Downtown Iowa City Starbucks employees plan to unionize

The movement comes after employees expressed issues with the management team at the location.


Cody Blissett

Photo illustration.

Jack Moore, News Reporter

Amid a national push for worker unions, staff at the Starbucks in downtown Iowa City filed a petition to unionize on Monday. 

The staff is planning to hold a vote in May, and if more than 70 percent of employees vote to unionize, the store will be the first Starbucks location, located on 228 S. Clinton Street, to unionize in Iowa.

The labor movement Starbucks Workers United has helped over 278 stores around the country organize into the union as criticisms of Starbucks management teams have mounted. 

Starbucks Workers United announced seven union filings nationwide on March 23 during Starbucks’ annual shareholder meeting. 

Evie Roberts, a downtown Iowa City Starbucks employee, said it’s necessary for the employees to unionize.

“I’ve always liked the idea of unionizing,” Roberts said. “I think the worker should have the right to be able to make decisions, so I was all for it.” 

Roberts, who started working for Starbucks in June 2021, said some of the complaints are related to scheduling work hours as a college student. She said a large portion of the employees are University of Iowa students, and scheduling has been inconsistent, making it harder for them to balance school and work life.

In addition, Roberts said Starbucks has a minimum requirement for employees to work 12 hours a week, but that work quota is not always given to employees. 

“I would be opening four days a week, and then the next week I would be closing the next four weeks or so,” she said. “I wouldn’t really get a consistent schedule to form a routine.” 

Abi Scheppmann, a Starbucks shift supervisor, said she has worked for the company since 2017 and has been working at the downtown location for a year. Scheppmann said safety concerns were another element of why employees feel the need to unionize.

She said severe weather and active shooter alerts were not properly handled to ensure employee safety and said generally, employees feel like their concerns are not being listened to.

“It’s just a matter of being listened to where the relationship kind of deteriorates,” Scheppmann said. “I think partners are concerned for each other and our customers, and when we feel like we’re not being listened to. It’s pretty frustrating.” 

Problems surrounding biohazard safety have also been an issue, Roberts said. There was an incident when someone got a nosebleed that contaminated the store’s ice bin. Partners asked to close the store for cleaning, but the managers said no, she said.  

“We know what’s best for our health and safety and our customer’s health and safety so we’re trying to secure that,” Roberts said. 

Both Roberts and Scheppmann expressed concern for the communication between Starbucks’ partners and managerial staff. Partners are not feeling like they are getting a say in doing what is best for their customers and themselves, Roberts said.

The first attempt at unionizing was made a year ago when an employee reached out to Workers United, Roberts said. Employees did not get a response; however, they reached this year, and this time they got a response.

Employees were informed by a representative from Workers United, Colin Cochran, that they needed to talk with other employees and sign a card agreeing they wanted to unionize. 

Roberts said they were able to get more than 70 percent of the staff onboard, and the union will schedule a time for them to vote. She said she heard it would be in a couple of months, most likely in May. 

If the employees vote in favor of unionizing, they will begin negotiating a contract with Starbucks on issues such as scheduling, safety, and communication. 

“I think the best part of this whole process is being able to come together as partners and say, Okay, what’s really important to all of us, what would we like to get in our contract? What can we bargain on?” Scheppmann said. 

Scheppmann said helping co-workers who were struggling was a big factor in the actions to unionize.

“I go to work, and I see my co-workers struggling, and I think, ‘okay, we all deserve better than this.’ And that’s where a lot of our efforts are coming from,” Scheppmann said.