RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It started with one coffee shop in Buffalo, New York. A Starbucks in the city was the first of the chain’s locations ever to win a union election — and the union’s victory there has set off a wave of union petitions in Starbucks stores across the country.

Now, the union drive has come to the Richmond area, where two Starbucks stores – one on Forest Hill Avenue and the other on Midlothian Turnpike – have filed petitions for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Katheryn Wiggers, an employee at the Forest Hill location, told us the push for unionization was inspired by the successful elections in other stores.

“Some of the partners from Buffalo were part of our conversation with Starbucks Workers United,” Wiggers told WFXR’s sister station, WRIC. “Just knowing that it was an option was definitely really life-changing for us.”

Starbucks has not yet filed its response with the NLRB, but Wiggers said the overwhelming majority of workers at her store signed the petition calling for an election.

Theoretically, Starbucks could choose to voluntarily recognize the union – but so far, Wiggers said there’s been no acknowledgment of the union effort from the company.

“Our district manager was CC’d in our letter to [Starbucks CEO] Kevin Johnson, so she has been publicly made aware of our intention to unionize,” Wiggers said. “But it’s been kind of like the elephant in the room that no one talks about at work.”

WRIC reached out to District Manager Salina Fisher-Guy but did not receive any response.

The Starbucks at Forest Hill, like many across the country, is hiring. Experts have suggested that a national labor shortage may give workers the upper hand in negotiations with bosses. (Photo: Tyler Thrasher/WRIC)

Still, Wiggers is optimistic the election will go smoothly, especially because multiple stores in the area have filed petitions to hold union elections.

Among their goals, if the union is approved, are better wages, guaranteed benefits and an end to so-called ‘at-will’ employment agreements, which allow workers to leave the job or management to fire an employee for any reason and with no notice.

In a statement, a Starbucks representative referred WRIC to comments made by Rosann Williams, President of the chain’s operations in North America, in a letter to the store’s employees sent on Dec. 20, 2021.

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we do not want a union between us as partners, and that conviction has not changed,” Williams wrote. “However, we have also said that we respect the legal process.”

She goes on to promise to bargain in good faith with the union representing the store in Buffalo, which at the time was the first and only Starbucks store to win unionization in the United States.