Workers Steve To (left) and Noah Smith (right) at the Shipley’s Grant Starbucks, whose employees just voted to unionize. (Mathew J. Schumer/Capital News Service)

ELLICOTT CITY — Workers at the Shipley’s Grant Starbucks cafe voted to unionize Thursday, just days ahead of a Supreme Court case involving the company’s challenge of a federal labor injunction.

“I started working here two and a half years ago, and as soon as I got here, I knew something had to change,” said Noah Smith, a shift supervisor at the Shipley’s Grant shop, which voted 21-2 on Thursday afternoon to unionize. Smith was one of the first three workers at the store to speak with Workers United about organizing the staff.

Dwindling hours coupled with increasing traction of unionization of Starbucks workers across the nation influenced Smith and his coworkers to initiate a union petition, which they filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on March 19.

Data compiled by UnionElections.org shows that 9,270 Starbucks employees are covered by a union — accounting for a bit less than three percent of the company’s total workforce.

The Shipley’s Grant location became the ninth Starbucks cafe in Maryland to unionize. Staff at more stores in the state are expected to go public with unionization efforts in the coming months.

Workers at a Starbucks location in Buffalo, New York, made history as the first unionized store in the company when they voted to organize with Workers United in 2021. Over 400 Starbucks locations have unionized since then, spanning 43 states and the District of Columbia.

In early 2023, corporate-level decisions led to reduced hours among the workers at the Shipley’s Grant cafe. While full-time employees saw only marginal schedule changes, part-timers came face-to-face with the possibility of losing health care benefits and access to free education — both offered to staff members working a minimum of 20 to 22 hours a week.

The team of 27 employees has a tough time ensuring every staff member works enough throughout the week to receive benefits, according to Smith. He added that workers often need to pick up shifts at other stores to meet the quota.

Smith said that one of the primary goals of unionizing was to establish a dialogue with the corporate leaders at Starbucks, setting clear guidelines about minimum working hours and clearer expectations for employees.

Another focal point of the unionization effort is to create a more inclusive work environment at the cafe. Smith shared a story about a recent directive from the store’s district manager to remove a Progress Pride Flag the workers had hung up in the store.

Since the staff went public with its petition to unionize, Smith said that Starbucks management also began enforcing a dress policy prohibiting workers from wearing union t-shirts on the clock.

Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.

At other locations, the company has taken more serious action against union promotion, going as far as firing pro-union employees at several stores, NLRB judges have ruled.

In total, the NLRB has taken legal action in more than 700 unfair labor practice cases leveled against Starbucks by employees — the majority of which were filed in the last couple of years.

Starbucks Corp. most recently lost an appeal in the District of Columbia Circuit Court in which the company challenged an NLRB ruling to stop interfering with workers’ unionization efforts at a Seattle location.

The Supreme Court case involves a suit by Starbucks against the NLRB involving company actions against workers at a store in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2022, including the firing of seven employees for allegedly associating with the Workers United union.

In October 2023, Starbucks filed a petition for the case to be heard by the Supreme Court, which was granted in January. The question presented by the company to the court is whether NLRB injunctions should be subject to the same standards in all jurisdictions.

As it stands, injunctions filed by the board are evaluated by courts in some jurisdictions using a two-factor test, whereas other jurisdictions use a four-factor test to determine if they are warranted. An affirmative decision in this case would establish the four-factor test in all jurisdictions.

Both parties will present their arguments to the court on Tuesday.

Starbucks and Workers United announced in February that collective bargaining negotiations would begin in the near future. Discussions are scheduled to begin towards the end of this month.

Once the Shipley’s Grant vote is certified by the NLRB, the cafe’s staff will join nationwide bargaining discussions affecting unionized Starbucks workers across the United States.

“I’m not going to be here forever, but the next people that come behind me, I want them to have a store that’s safe and inclusive and open and with them,” said Smith.