Shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Starbucks workers and organizers in Pittsburgh began celebrating. During a phone conversation, you could hear their excited voices in the background. Moments earlier, they’d stood in the Downtown Sixth Street Starbucks cafe while an agent from the National Labor Relations Board counted ballots that would determine whether the store’s baristas would unionize.

The final tally proved unanimous: nine votes in favor of joining Starbucks Workers United. It was a committed crew. One worker, a high school student, skipped classes to cast a vote.

“Everyone is so happy,” said Tori Tambellini, a Starbucks worker and union organizer. She’d stepped outside to spread the news by phone. “I think the store manager may have teared up a bit. He’s not as happy as we are.”

The Sixth Street store is the 400th in the U.S. to organize. The Starbucks United campaign began in late 2021.

The past several days have been exhilarating for Pittsburgh’s unionized baristas. Last week, the coffee company announced it would work with the union toward reaching a contract for its organized employees — a sharp reversal in what had been a hard-line company stance against the union. And on Monday, a crowd of United Steelworkers from around the U.S. and Canada, in town for a convention, filled the sidewalks on Sixth Street to rally and offer support ahead of the vote.

“We’re really stoked,” said Eric Shorthouse, 28, a worker at the Sixth Street store. “This is huge. It’s not something I really ever thought would happen.”

Both Shorthouse and fellow employee Harper Blackstock, 22, said they felt as though they were “standing on the shoulders of giants,” meaning organizers and workers who paved the way for the Sixth Street effort. That includes workers who initiated the national Starbucks organizing effort in Buffalo, as well as those at the cafe in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, which became the first to organize in Pennsylvania.

One issue for workers at the Sixth Street store is that managers have been cutting baristas’ hours. This results in smaller paychecks and too few workers performing too much work.

”A lot of times it feels like our position there is not taken seriously as a job and a  livelihood,” Blackstock said, “and that goes for scheduling, for pay, and for the amount of work that any individual person is made to do.”

Celebrating a union win at the Sixth Street Starbucks in Pittsburgh are, from left, Kelli Prizner of the Market Square square store, Starbucks Workers United organizer Phil Halin, baristas Harper Blackstock, Gabbie Faulkner, Eric Shorthouse and Tori Tambellini, Starbucks worker and organizer. (Photo by Max Laupp)

Another issue is safety. Baristas at the store sometimes must deal with unruly customers – there have been occasions in which customers have thrown items at workers, Blackstock said. Workers want the company to take those incidents more seriously.

“There have been times in the past when safety measures were subpar at best,” Blackstone said. “And that’s disheartening.”

Herbert Porter of United Steelworkers Local 8888 in Newport News, Virginia, joined a few hundred of his union colleagues in supporting Starbucks workers at the Sixth Street store in Downtown Pittsburgh on Monday, March 4, 2024. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

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