Wisconsin Baristas Demand Sustainable Jobs

The national movement organizing union representation for Starbucks workers came to Wisconsin this year. By June, four Starbucks locations – Oak Creek, Plover, Appleton and one in Madison – voted yes on unionization.

Across these locations, workers’ concerns included low pay, inadequate hours, poor COVID-19 safety precautions, and lack of benefits. A letter from the Oak Creek location to Starbucks management stated:

“At $12.60 an hour it’s impossible for any barista with bills and rent to pay to also develop a savings account to fall back on in the event they do fall ill.”

All four Wisconsin locations elected to affiliate with Starbucks Workers United. The Oak Creek location voted 15-6 in favor of the union, Plover 7-5, Appleton 10-7, and Madison 15-1. 

But these weren’t the first coffee shops to unionize in Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, barista-led unionization movements began at smaller, locally-owned coffee shops. Before the pandemic in 2019 and shortly afterwards in 2020, workers at two locales were voicing similar concerns; inconsistent schedules, low-wages, poor work-life balance, and high emotional labor.

Organizing at Colectivo also began before the pandemic. In 2022, Colectivo workers finally received a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that ended management’s appeals regarding their August 2021 union election. With this decision, Colectivo became the nation’s largest unionized coffee chain with about 400 workers covered by the union representing workers in Colectivo coffee shops and production facilities in Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago. The union is affiliated with the IBEW and workers and management are currently bargaining their first contract, with members of the bargaining committee featured on the Colectivo Union website.

There, Zac Heren talks about his pathway into Colectivo, and why he’s part of the bargaining committee:

“I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to create a better, more mentally, physically, and financially sustainable workplace for myself and my coworkers.”

And bargaining committee member Andie Zei says:

“I believe through our union we can ensure a safe and inclusive workplace for everyone!”