Labor

Starbucks Solidarity this Labor Day

Join Starbucks Workers United and supporters this Labor Day weekend to celebrate the over 200 organizing victories and demand that Starbucks end their union-busting campaign. 

Workers in SWU have called for “sip-in” demonstrations this weekend (bring a cash tip). These small actions can be used for building solidarity in the community with continued organizing and strikes, and future struggles over improved conditions, increased pay in this inflationary environment, signed contracts, and workers’ power.

SWU has compiled a full list of stores and dates over this three-day weekend.

This wave of organizing started in Buffalo, NY, where the first store became unionized in December 2021, in the wake of “Striketober.” By February 2022, 64 stores had filed for union elections, and over 100 stores had been unionized by April. Now the total has recently reached 220 unionized stores.

Just weeks after winning the union in Buffalo, workers went on a five-day strike there that won an important demand over paid Covid quarantine time from the Starbucks company–across all their stores.

During organizing at the Poplar & Highland Starbucks in Memphis seven workers were fired. Beto, one of the seven who was fired, said Buffalo helped inspire them. “We knew what we wanted after that,” he said, “That was to unionize.” By June, workers at the store voted to do just that, by eleven to three. That same month, the Memphis 7 marched and spoke at the Poor Peoples’ Campaign in DC. In August the NLRB ruled their firing had been illegal, and they were reinstated. Workers celebrated, and then struck the store the next day. 

Individual Starbucks locations across the country that have already won their elections have begun asserting their Weingarten rights and right to bargain with management over any changes made in the shop. Attempted union busting by Starbucks, and workers’ resistance continued this month.

Early in August, when management in a Buffalo store fired Sam Amato, a lead organizer who had worked for Starbucks for 13 years, all the workers there again walked out in protest.

On August 15th, Starbucks workers at several Eugene Oregon stores set up picket lines, and held a solidarity rally on the 17th. Three California Starbucks and one in Maryland also struck last month, and hundreds demonstrated in the twin cities the day the fall Pumpkin Spice menu came out.

Saturday, August 24th, workers at the Astoria Boulevard Starbucks, (Queens, NYC) held a five-minute work stoppage to protest another Unfair Labor Practice, after management fired Austin Locke, a worker active in the union. They have threatened continued work stoppages until workers are reinstated, and a list of demands including repair of air conditioning and broader negotiations.

Starbucks Workers United is associated with SEIU (the country’s second-largest union), but the Starbucks unionization efforts have been grassroots efforts led by workers in individual shops, focused on organizing a union majority. This is a different strategy from the centralized, “fight for $15” also associated with SEIU, in which workers were often brought out for photo opportunities and demonstrations aimed at local politicians rather than majority organizing. And, so far, it has been much more successful. 

Starbucks is a Fortune 500 company with almost 9,000 company-owned stores in the US, over 6,000 franchised units, and $29 billion in assets. They will fight unionization with everything they have. This week Starbucks filed an outlandish lawsuit to overturn all the successful elections across the country. They will resist granting any concessions to unionized shops for fear of spreading the organizing wave further.

The workers’ fight for a decent contract, and for union representation across the company, will be harder than the fights for individual union votes. This may require more resources from the parent union, without ceding any control over their own struggle. The local worker-led militant spirit shown in the organizing and the informal links between experienced shops like Buffalo and those newly organizing, will be necessary for the fights to come. So will active solidarity with any strikes and picket lines from local communities, from socialists, and from other labor bodies. This makes this Labor Day sip-in and the #NoContractNoCoffee  pledge an important step. 

The move towards unionization is starting to spread to Trader Joe’s supermarkets, and recently the Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Massachusetts successfully voted to unionize. Sarah Beth, a Trader Joe’s worker in Minneapolis, said she is confident they will win there, adding “Of course, trade union membership in the US is very low and has been even more eroded by the union-busting of big companies. But people now see being part of the union as a solution. So there’s a resurgence of people taking ownership and organizing.” 

While 2,000 mental healthcare workers are still on their open-ended strike against Kaiser Permanente in California (and now more in Hawaii), and a major explosion of different strikes is taking place in Britain, the inspiration from Starbucks and Amazon workers should be supported and used to expand to a more generalized fight back.

As Beto, one of the reinstated Montgomery Seven, said, “bosses will do absolutely everything to strip us of our dignity. But we will keep fighting back, for Starbucks workers and everyone.”

This weekend, join us in supporting the Starbucks workers. 

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