Employees at Starbucks locations in Cleveland Circle and Lower Allston began steps to form a union, joining two other Boston-area locations in a growing labor movement of cafe workers across the Greater Boston area.

“We anticipate quite a few more in the coming weeks,” Kylah Clay, 23, a barista in Allston and organizer of the Massachusetts union effort, told GBH News Tuesday. “There's been an insane amount of interest in this, which is incredibly exciting. It's a generational uprising.”

Four locations in the Boston area have now moved to unionize, including two in Coolidge Corner and Allston that began the process of unionizing last month. Employees at those locations most recently held a meeting with the National Labor Relations Board to forward their efforts to form a union.

As of Tuesday, 23 of around 30 employees at the Cleveland Circle and Lower Allston shops signed cards indicating their intent to unionize, according to organizing committee members working with the Workers United Labor Union.

In addition to the chain’s first U.S. union victory last month in Buffalo, N.Y., employees were inspired by other local efforts, including recent unionizing efforts at multiple Pavement Coffeehouse locations, Darwin’s in Cambridge and Forge, Bloc and Diesel in Somerville.

“Seeing people in the working class coming together to fight for a seat at the table and in the decision-making process is really cool,” Molly Kirk, 19, a barista at the Lower Allston Continuum Starbucks location, told GBH News Tuesday. “It was really inspiring to see them coming together.”

Jeff Bravo, a 55-year-old loyal customer-turned-barista at the Cleveland Circle location, says the movement is “a moment of reckoning” that goes beyond a generational divide.

“It’s a livelihood,” Bravo told GBH News Tuesday. “A lot of the people at our store are longtime workers — career, even — and when you have that environment, you're more vested in what goes on there and you get more connected with your fellow coworkers.

“Corporate model wants all the stores to look the same, and we don’t want our store to look the same,” he continued. “Customers come out of their way to come here because they like the personality of our store. That’s why it’s important for us to have a unified voice of our own, from our store, and for other stores to get that same voice.”

Of the coffee giant’s roughly 9,000 company-owned locations across the country, 26 shops have taken steps to unionize, going up against a goliath that ran what some reported as an “aggressive anti-union campaign” at its Buffalo locations.

Some local coffee shop owners more or less embraced the unionizing process, but Starbucks employees say they expect a fight at every step.

“There is definitely a fear of retaliation and union busting,” Kirk said. “But now that we have come together, I have a lot less fear because I just feel very supported by the community we have built.”

Pictures of the Week-North America-Photo Gallery
Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a viewing of their union election on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. Starbucks workers at a Buffalo store voted to unionize on Thursday, a first for the 50-year-old coffee retailer in the U.S. and the latest sign that the labor movement is stirring after decades of decline. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
Joshua Bessex/AP FR171816 AP

In a statement to GBH News on Wednesday, a Starbucks spokesperson said the company is "listening and learning" from staff in these stores and that the company's success is built on those partnerships.

When asked about alleged union-busting tactics, a spokesperson shared a message from Starbucks North America President Rossann Williams sent to employees last month.

“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 said. "However, we have also said that we respect the legal process.”

Employees at the two original Boston-area locations held a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board last week to negotiate which employees from the stores will be eligible to vote in a formal election. Employees expect a result from the NLRB in the coming weeks.

In mandatory listening sessions with management, employees were given pamphlets and cards with messages warning that unionizing would “give Workers United control over you,” result in costly dues, and “drive a wedge” between management and workers, according to copies of pamphlets acquired by GBH News. “By law, no one is allowed to threaten or pressure you into signing a card,” one pamphlet reads. “If you’ve changed your mind, you can and should request Workers United to return a card to you. If they don’t return it, ask yourself: can you trust them to represent you?”

Last month, employees received an emailed notice about “what to expect” in the union vote from Starbucks corporate management, encouraging employees to privately meet with management in order to “have all the facts from us, in addition to what you will hear from the union.”

In response, employees renewed their call for Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to sign a Fair Election Agreement sent on Dec. 13. Under the agreement, employees wrote, the company would refrain from “union-busting tactics,” among other items. “By signing this agreement, Starbucks leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the company’s mission and values by supporting all partners regardless of their stance on unionizing,” employees wrote.

Workers at the two Boston-area shops that most recently moved to unionize say they anticipate similar pushback in their efforts but are relying on the strong network of communication between employees across the city.

“The solidarity that we have with one another is really what carries this whole movement,” said Willow Montana, 29, a shift manager at the Cleveland Circle location. “We’re really living through a revolution, we’re on the precipice of this big wave of change as far as labor in America goes. Hopefully Starbucks is just the start of it.”