Starbucks barista Mandie Cantrell in Tommy’s Park, across the street from the Starbucks where she has worked for almost three years. Cantrell is the barista leading the effort to unionize at the Old Port store. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

When it comes time for Starbucks workers in Portland to vote to join a union, barista Mandie Cantrell hopes the result is 15-0.

That vote, she said, would send a message that all of the baristas are on the same page in their effort to raise pay to keep up with the high cost of living in a city where housing costs have far outpaced wage increases.

Workers at the Starbucks at the corner of Middle and Exchange streets in the Old Port notified the company late Tuesday of their intent to organize and join Starbucks Workers United. The Old Port Starbucks is the second in Maine to join a nationwide push among Starbucks workers to unionize and ask for better working conditions.

In the past year, 216 of Starbucks’ 9,000 U.S. locations have voted to unionize, while workers at 46 stores have voted against it. Similar campaigns have been launched at other major companies, including Amazon. In Maine, workers at Maine Medical Center, the Bangor Daily News, the Portland Museum of Art, Bates College, Waterville KVCAP, Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit and the Kittery Water District have voted to unionize in the past year.

Last month, Starbucks workers at the Biddeford store on Alfred Street voted 9-3 to join the union. Those baristas were motivated to join the union after seeing co-workers leave because of inconsistent scheduling and low pay.

In Portland, pay and safety concerns are the top reasons workers decided to organize, said Cantrell, who is acting as spokesperson for the baristas.


“I’ve seen a lot of my co-workers struggling to find housing. It’s hard to live in Portland off of just Starbucks,” she said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, baristas have wanted more say in the health and safety measures at the store, Cantrell said. Many of the workers are long-term employees, including one who has been there for 20 years, and they want nothing more than to keep themselves and their customers safe, she said.

“We have so many strong and experienced workers who have so much input and so much to say,” she said. “I really wanted to give them a means to speak on all things going on in our store.”

Unlike other Starbucks locations, the Old Port store has not struggled to retain staff, and stayed fully staffed through the pandemic. The baristas are “very grateful for what Starbucks gives us and we’re happy with the benefits,” Cantrell said. But they also see room for improvement.

“Many partners are overworked and ‘pouring from an empty cup,’ unceasingly giving our entire selves daily without even a few drops back in our cup at the end of the day,” the organizing committee wrote in a letter to Starbucks President and CEO Howard Schultz.

“The best way to improve the lives of your workers is to respect the right to defend and fight for their beliefs without fear of retaliation or consequences. We ask that the cups be filled equally 50-50, a happy medium or even just a few more drops back into our cups,” the letter concluded.


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.

On Monday, Starbucks accused National Labor Relations Board agents of helping Workers United win by manipulating the voting process during a union election in Kansas City, Kansas, Reuters reported. The board oversees union elections in the U.S.

Despite her excitement about notifying the company and preparing for an election, Cantrell describes these steps as a “double-edged sword.” She has heard about union-busting actions in other states where workers are joining the union, but doesn’t believe that is likely to happen in a progressive city like Portland.

“I think that over time Starbucks will start to accept that this is what the workers want and hopefully they will bend with it,” she said. “My hope is that as more and more stores unionize, they start to respect it and maybe even be proud of it.”

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