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A Knoxville Starbucks could become the first to unionize in the Southeast after employees vote in favor of joining

Employees voted 8-to-7 in favor of unionizing the Merchants Drive location, but Starbucks is contesting the outcome -- saying the deciding vote shouldn't count.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Knoxville Starbucks could become the first in the Southeast and Tennessee to unionize after employees narrowly voted in favor of joining Workers United.

In an eight-to-seven vote, the majority of employees voted in favor of unionizing the Starbucks location along Merchants Drive in North Knoxville.

Employee and union organizer Maggie Carter said the pro-union vote will have ripple impacts.

“This is massive, not just for Starbucks workers and Starbucks partners. This is massive for the service industry as a whole," she said.

Starbucks is challenging the vote by the store’s assistant general manager, so right now the final tally isn't official. However, Carter said she is confident with the potential outcome being in the union's favor.

According to Carter, the company said the deciding vote shouldn’t count because that employee is a corporate representative. The union disagreed and said her vote should count.

Employees at this Starbucks said they’re excited for what the future holds, regardless.

"Definitely excited for the future,” Carter said. "This means that we get to sit down with our cooperate executives and say that these things are not working for us.”

With union membership, workers would have the power to negotiate with the employer and work under contract.

Jaz Brisack represents Starbucks Workers United and has pushed pro-union moves across the country.

"I am a barista at the Elmwood Starbucks in New York, so I am here to support these amazing people," Brisack said.

"What we hope to do is change the landscape of our store and move forward and do that at every Starbucks here in the South," Carter said.

The push to unionize is also underway at a Starbucks in West Hills. Claire Dickerson works at that store and expects such a change there will offer workers more guarantees.

"To see that another store in our own town is actually successfully unionizing is just fantastic," Dickerson said. "In a little more specific way, we constantly have a floor with less people on it than there should be. We're not able to do our jobs effectively, but we're told we should be able to."

"You're going to see a massive shift in the workers' rights in Tennessee and across the country as a result of this campaign," Carter said. "The National Labor Relations Board will have the final say. But union leaders are confident the decision will be in their favor."


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