You are here

Starbucks union wave - What are the workers asking for?

Alex Thomson

March 7, 2022
History was made in December 2021 when workers in a Starbucks coffee shop in Buffalo, New York voted to unionize after the first ever successful organizing drive at a Starbucks location. Since this groundbreaking event, workers in more than 100 Starbucks stores across the United States have started their own drives in a huge wave of solidarity. Since December, a second store has organized in Buffalo, and a February 23 vote has won a third unionized location in Mesa, Arizona. Starbucks workers, or ‘partners’ as they are known in the company, are organizing with Starbucks United, under the umbrella of Workers United, an affiliate of the SEIU.
The union drive across American Starbucks stores is particularly exciting because Starbucks ‘partners’ tend to be younger workers and because the company has traditionally been known across the industry as a better than average employer. 
The growing movement is indicative of a recent increase in union militancy across the United States, and in this instance, of younger workers increasingly not being satisfied with workplace conditions that are lower than the working conditions and standard of living that their parents and grandparents had.  
Some of the key issues that the Starbucks workers wish to address include safety, particularly during the pandemic. Another grievance is pay. Partners with years of seniority are paid pennies more than new hires. 
Starbucks promotes a rich benefits package which includes health insurance, deeply discounted vacations and 401(k) retirement savings plans but many workers cannot afford to take advantage of because they are not paid a living wage. Inability to pay for the company health insurance can leave workers relying on state subsidized health plans, thus effectively providing the company, which earned 8.1 billion dollars in 2021, with government subsidies. 
The company, which increasingly relies on credit card sales, particularly during the pandemic, currently allows for cash tips only which effectively reduces income for the workers. Further issues are job security, staffing levels, training and scheduling.
In response to the wave of union organizing, Starbucks, which has long banked on the favourable public perception of their ‘Starbucks values’, has mounted an aggressive anti-union drive. They have a website for the purpose, they have held compulsory store-wide staff meetings to dissuade workers from organizing. After these meetings led to COVID outbreaks, tactics switched to smaller meetings where two managers would hold a meeting to intimidate a single worker. 
The employer has consistently filed objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) to slow each vote, even when precedent has been set that the objections will be overturned. During any organizing drive, typically, Starbucks hires additional staff ahead of the union vote, to dilute the yes vote. Workers report that these additional staff are trained an outside location, contrary to past practice, and exposed to anti-union propaganda.
Coming out of the first Buffalo drive, seven workers who were the main organizers were fired after the store was unionized. While the employer maintains that they were not targeted for their union activity, the terminations were as a result of policies that had never existed before. As a result, a campaign has emerged to reinstate fired member Cassie Fleischer, one of the key organizers in the first Buffalo drive, and a pivotal person in the Starbucks organizing wave.
In addition, in early February, seven workers at a Starbucks store in Memphis, Tennessee, known as the Memphis 7, were fired for their organizing activities in the midst of the union drive. In response, local trade unionists came out in support of their fight and Starbucks workers across the country and their supporters have organized rallies to support them.
In spite of the employer’s anti-union efforts, the many ongoing organizing drives at Starbucks stores across the United States are indicative of a very exciting time for labour where younger workers are taking the initiative to take control of their working conditions.
Geo Tags: 

Featured Event



Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel