Richard Bensinger, left, who is advising unionization efforts, along with baristas Casey Moore, right, Brian Murray, second from left, and Jaz Brisack, second from right, discuss their efforts to unionize three Buffalo-area stores, inside the movements headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021 in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson).

Starbucks employees in Oxford want to unionize, writing in a letter to the company they’re not only overworked but dealing with homophobia, transphobia and racism at the workplace. 

Ten employees from the store on Jackson Avenue signed the letter, addressed to CEO Kevin Johnson, on Thursday. Starbucks Workers United posted a copy of the letter to social media on Friday. 

“Since COVID-19, this store has suffered ordeal after ordeal, from inconsistent management to understaffed shifts working well beyond what they are compensated for,” the Oxford workers wrote. “Starbucks claims to protect and value its baristas first but we have yet to feel this in our daily efforts.” 

This is the first location in Mississippi to announce plans to organize. More than 100 stores nationwide have petitioned to hold elections of their own. 

Buffalo Starbucks workers first began their union campaign — eventually voting in favor of a union — in 2021. The growing movement has been a major challenge to the Seattle-based chain, which has said its workers are given some of the best pay and benefits in the retail industry.

The Mississippi location’s letter detailed issues beyond understaffed and uncompensated work. It also said employees have had to “endure homophobia, racism and transphobia on a near-daily basis” from both customers and management. The employees also say they have received no updates regarding an internal investigation of their current manager. 

“We feel as though the company is not fulfilling its promises of inclusivity and support,” the letter said. 

A Starbucks spokesperson told Mississippi Today the chain takes the allegations made in the letter seriously and denounce discrimination of any kind.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores,” the spokesperson said, referring the dozens of ongoing union campaigns.

Starbucks has said repeatedly throughout the last year that while it does not think its workers need unions, it respects their right to organize.

One of the chain’s early union leaders has a direct tie to Mississippi. Jaz Brisack, a University of Mississippi graduate and Rhodes scholar, is credited with beginning union talks among her Starbucks coworkers in Buffalo. She moved to Western New York to work on union campaigns with an organizer she met while helping with the failed attempt unionize the Nissan plant in Canton.

The momentum has continued since the campaign began in Buffalo.  A store in Arizona became the third Starbucks in the United States to win a union vote just three weeks ago. 

Mississippi is a right-to-work state, meaning workers are not required pay dues or join an established union. While uncommon, workers in Mississippi can still unionize.

The National Labor Review Board will hold an election if at least 30% of workers sign cards or a petition saying they want a union. If a majority of those who vote choose to unionize, the union is certified and can bargain on behalf of the employees.

“Change can happen,” Starbucks United Workers of Oxford posted as their first-ever tweet. “Even in MS, progress takes form. This is just the beginning.” 

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