Tori Tambellini steered her Subaru through a rainstorm as she crossed the Pennsylvania state line and entered West Virginia around noon on Tuesday. She was headed from Pittsburgh to Louisville, Kentucky, where she’d be urging baristas to sign a petition asking Starbucks to guarantee hours for its employees — part of her work as an organizer for Starbucks Workers United. 

Her phone attached to the dashboard, Tambellini joined a weekly Zoom meeting with her colleagues. Daisy Pitkin, the national organizing director for the campaign, told folks to turn on their cameras. That was interesting, Tambellini thought. Then Pitkin delivered the news:

Starbucks had agreed to work with the union toward reaching a contract for its unionized employees. Tambellini, 24, was stunned. This was a major milestone in an often bitter organizing effort begun in late 2021.

“At first it didn’t feel real,” Tambellini said. The reactions of her union colleagues on Zoom assured her it was. “Everybody was happy-crying,” she said.

Phil Halin, too, was shocked. He’s been involved in the Starbucks organizing campaign for two years. Once Pitkin requested everyone turn on their cameras, Halin figured something was up. Perhaps Pitkin would deliver some small upbeat piece of news that would lift spirits in the midst of a dreary February day.

Instead, Pitkin dropped the bombshell.

“There were 50 staff organizers all sobbing our eyes out,” said Halin, who Zoomed into the meeting from his Philadelphia home office. “We got the biggest indication yet that Starbucks wants to deal with us and actually make a contract with its workers.”

Tambellini, an employee at the Market Square store, was one of four Pittsburgh-area Starbucks workers fired then rehired after a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled their dismissals were part of the company’s effort to thwart the union’s organizing effort. 

“I have been telling workers for two years, ‘We’re going to win this by putting pressure on the company on all fronts,’ and I knew sincerely that was true,” she said. “It feels like it was all worth it, all the craziness, getting fired, the bus tour, the strikes.”

In July, Tambellini and her colleagues organized a bus tour that began in Louisville then passed through Pittsburgh for a rally before heading to Philadelphia and then Buffalo, New York.

Both the union and Starbucks issued similar statements about their determination to reach an agreement. Neither side is giving away too many details just yet. 

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Starbucks Workers United said that, during mediation discussions last week, “a constructive path forward emerged on the broader issues of the future of organizing and collective bargaining at Starbucks.”

“To build on that path,” the statement continues, “Workers United and Starbucks have agreed to begin discussion on a foundational framework to achieve collective bargaining agreements for represented stores and partners.” The two sides would work to resolve litigation, the statement said, and set up a “fair process for workers to organize.”

Starbucks has agreed to provide union workers with credit card tipping and other employee benefits the company had previously offered only to nonunion stores. 

“While significant work remains,” the union statement read, “coming together to develop this framework is a significant step forward and a clear demonstration of a shared commitment to working collaboratively with mutual respect.”

The Starbucks statement used similar language.

The company said it approached the union in December with a desire to work collaboratively to reach an agreement. This represented a significant break with the company’s stance under former Chief Executive Howard Schultz, who waged an aggressive battle against organizers and had to fight off allegations of union busting at a U.S. Senate hearing in March.

According to the Starbucks statement, current CEO Laxman Narasimhan “has been clear that we are deeply committed to delivering on our partner promise and to restitching the fabric of the green apron for all partners at Starbucks.”

More than 380 of Starbucks’ approximately 9,500 stores have voted to unionize.

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at