How Workers at a Boone Starbucks Beat the Odds to Start a Union

Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a union-election watch party in New York in 2021. The labor movement at the coffee giant is gaining steam in the U.S. Workers at a Boone location became the first Starbucks location to unionize in NC in May. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex, File)

By Michael McElroy

June 8, 2022

In May, a western NC coffee shop became the first location in the state to form a labor union.

It’s not impossible to start a union in North Carolina. This Boone Starbucks proves it. 

The western NC coffee shop became the first location in the state to do so when they voted to form a union in May. And the vote wasn’t close: Store employees voted 33-2 in favor. 

Rachel Eakes, a leader of the Boone Starbucks union, said that other locations across the country have been reaching out for advice. 

North Carolina is known for its anti-union policies, and the Boone union leaders have been telling others what worked best for them.

The biggest thing for anyone seeking to unionize, Eakes said, is transparency with your employees. 

“Make sure you’re giving them accurate information and making sure that they can ask questions in a judgment-free environment.”

You want to create an environment, she said, where doubts can be expressed openly. If employees feel they have to keep their questions to themselves or if doubts are expressed for the first time in the initial vote, she said, “That’s when your foundation starts to crumble a little bit.”

Give employees reliable info, be honest and don’t pressure anyone to sign a petition or vote a certain way, she said.

The Boone leaders’ philosophy, she said, was: “We’ve given you the information, do with it what you will. That seemed to work most effectively.”

And it helps to be a good coworker overall.

“If you’re not friends with the people that you work with and you don’t talk to them regularly and then all of a sudden you start talking to them about union stuff they’re just going to think that something is a little fishy. “


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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