Ash Macomber talks with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in May about why she and other employees at the Starbucks in Biddeford decided to try to form a union there. They have since successfully voted to unionize. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Starbucks in Biddeford has become the first Maine location of the international chain of coffee shops to unionize.

Workers at the Alfred Street store voted 9-3 to unionize as part of Starbucks Workers United, members announced Tuesday following a vote count watch party. They join a push by Starbucks workers across the country to organize and advocate for fair wages and better working conditions.

Starting with successful union votes in December at two Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York, workers have filed for union elections at more than 260 of the company’s 9,000 U.S. stores. The union has prevailed with the backing of more than half the workers at the majority of stores that have voted.

In Biddeford, organizing committee members said they were motivated to unionize after seeing co-workers leave because of issues including inconsistencies in scheduling and low pay.

“I wanted to give them a reason to stay. That’s my ultimate goal: to better everyone’s lives,” Ash Macomber, who led the push to organize, said after notifying the company of their intentions.

In a letter to Starbucks President and CEO Howard Schultz in May, the Biddeford employees said they are “acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other,” in accordance with the company’s mission and values.

“Our efforts to unionize come from a love of our stores and our communities,” they wrote.

The employees outlined how they believe the company has “fundamentally shifted its focus” and placed unrealistic expectations on employees during the pandemic. They said they were forced to come to work sick and had little support from management to protect themselves from COVID-19. Many employees have picked up second jobs because their pay fails to compete with the rising cost of living.

Starbucks, based in Seattle, has criticized efforts to unionize. Last July, the National Labor Relations Board found that the company unlawfully retaliated against two Philadelphia baristas involved in organizing. The board’s review showed that Starbucks closely monitored their public social media activity, attempted to gauge employees’ support for the organizing efforts, and unlawfully spied on protected conversations between one of the baristas and other employees.

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