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This Labor Day, Starbucks Workers Host Union “Sip-Ins” Nationwide

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This Labor Day weekend, Starbucks workers across the country will be rolling out the red carpet to their supporters. About 100 of the coffee chain’s stores are set to hold ?“sip-ins” from Friday, Sept. 2 to Monday, Sept. 5. (To see a map of locations, click here, and for a full list, click here.)

Sip-ins are loosely modeled after sit-ins. They mark designated times when supporters of a store are asked to come in, order low-priced drinks or water, and leave big tips. The events provide an opportunity for baristas and their supporters to engage in conversation about labor conditions and build community. 

“I’m a little nervous, but we’re excited,” said Samantha Shields, a 21-year-old barista at a Starbucks store in Washington, D.C. Her store filed to unionize in late August and is the first to organize in the city. She’s worried about retaliation as a result, she told In These Times.

Labor Day Strikes

Meanwhile, several stores will also be on strike. Additionally, in several large cities, other major events are also scheduled, pointing to a more expansive vision of what the nascent union can do for Labor Day. 

In Boston, a labor rally, a rank-and-file breakfast, and a reproductive justice rally will precede sip-ins on Labor Day. Starbucks workers are also rallying at the state capitals of Oklahoma and Texas. And Colorado baristas will converge on a Labor Day parade in Louisville in remembrance of the early 20th century Coal Wars, says fired Denver barista Ryan Dinaro, 23. 

“The goal of this [day of] action is to empower workers on Labor Day, it’s to send a message to Starbucks that they couldn’t run their business without us,” says Collin Pollitt, a barista in Oklahoma City. “They need to be held accountable,”

On Monday evening, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union behind the organizing effort, is planning to host a web-based event. The event is for attendees of Labor Day events to have an opportunity to tune in so they can watch and discuss together.

“We’re not only building a movement for Starbucks workers, we’re building a cohesive labor movement,” says Tyler DaGuerre, a 27-year-old Boston barista. 

The array of different types of events, dominated by the sip-ins, reflects both the desire for coordinated action and the roles that different actors are playing in the SBWU-backed movement.

Early Organization

Conversation about SBWU’s Labor Day plans began in the early summer. Individual leaders in the Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and New England regions of SBWU including Pollitt, Dinaro, and DaGuerre, respectively, are among those who helped create the iteration that now exists.

They eventually did so as part of SBWU’s National Contract Action Team, the body charged with planning escalating direct actions to pressure Starbucks to negotiate a first contract. Workers United, the parent union for SBWU, first introduced the idea of a broad wave of sip-ins, which then received broad support from workers. 

Workers in some cities have also hinted at more militant events to follow in the days and weeks to come after Labor Day, noting that the next few months are Starbucks’ high season, though details were not yet available.

In the Boston area, the day’s events are themed around intersectionality, with a focus on reproductive rights, among other issues. ?“So long as we’re upholding one system of oppression, we’re therefore justifying our own,” says DaGuerre. ?“So it really needs to be a collective movement of intersectional solidarity.”

In Oklahoma, Pollitt was mindful of the need to make Labor Day relevant to today’s workers and also emphasized intersectionality. He wants to ?“spark a national discussion about labor” after what he describes as decades of stagnation. In Pollitt’s state, workers are gathering at the state capitol.

Collective Effort

Boosting community support is a key aim of the sip-ins. SBWU has a goal of gathering 30,000 signatures to its ?“No Contract, No Coffee” solidarity campaign over the course of the weekend.

Such support often, but not exclusively, comes from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members and chapters. For example, Worcester DSA member and barista Cory Bisbee, 25, told In These Times that his chapter has made supporting the SBWU campaign a priority. That city will see a LGBTQ+-themed sip-in, with Labor Day coinciding with Pride week in Worcester, Mass.

An outcome of the planning in the New England region, says DaGuerre, is that stores seeking support have been matched up with community supporters looking to ?“adopt” a store to help it organize, taking advantage of resources that were already there but uncoordinated.

Not every store is able to take part in the day of action. Because much of the national plan depends on community support, many workers in more isolated locations likely won’t be able to participate. Others, like the Anderson store in South Carolina where workers are suspended and barred from entering any Starbucks, have to take into account the impact of previous union-busting tactics by the company.

But for those who are able to participate, some see it as an opportunity to step up their impact in the innovative campaign to unionize Starbucks. 

“A bunch of Gen Z kids have banded together and decided to stop accepting that Starbucks will refuse to pay us a living wage,” says Dinaro. ?“It’s truly inspiring and it’s a stepping stone to greater change.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 2, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is a contributor for In These Times.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions and collective action to learn about your rights.

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Starbucks Workers Are in the Fight of Their Lives for a Contract

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There are still dozens of stores waiting for their elections, and more stores filing for election every week. These thousands of newly unionized workers are in the fight of their lives for a contract.

The company is fighting dirtier and dirtier all the time, from closing stores to firing more than 80 union leaders across the country to now filing suit at the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the Board itself is committing fraud by colluding with the union. Their campaign is getting more and more vicious.

[Corporate’s] theory of the campaign, in my mind, is to crush the momentum. They are counting on us not being able to continue to build and organize. They’re counting on the idea that there’s not going to be enough community solidarity to really stand up to their bullying, and that they’re going to be able to quash the campaign and wait it out and then decertify stores.

December 9 we’ll cross a year since the first stores voted for a union. The certification year ends at that point and the company can begin to run decert[ification] petitions. 

[Editors’ note: Under federal law, a union cannot be voted out, or “decertified,” within the first year of its having been certified. Often employers will stall on bargaining for a year so the decertification window opens, and covertly encourage workers to decertify the union at that point.] So we’re in the fight for our lives for a contract right now.

A National Voice

These workers have done a lot of work internally to build national structures so they are speaking powerfully in one voice to the company. There’s a national committee called the National Bargaining Committee, which is working hard to draft a set of bargaining demands. They’re going to bring it back down to the base [of workers] for revisions and then we’re going to introduce that same proposal at every store where we can get this company to bargain.

We’re going to ask the company to meet with the national bargaining committee. I’m assuming they’re going to say no. They want to bargain store by store. So workers are planning to coordinate with each other and put forward the same proposal over and over.

It’s going to take a hell of a lot of militant collective action and solidarity from the labor movement; community, student, and faith allies; and customers to move the needle at the bargaining table.

Pledge Creates a Rapid Action Network

That’s why we’re asking people to sign the No Contract, No Coffee pledge. What it says is we’re going to follow the lead of workers, and we’re going to support them in the way they’re asking for support. It’s our way of building a rapid action network for the campaign.

If a store in your community goes on strike, you’ll get a message over email or by text, whichever you prefer, saying, “Hey there’s going to be a picket line, show up in solidarity with those workers.” Or “We’re going to rally at the corporate office on this day.” Or “We have an action at the Mellody Hobson-owned Denver Broncos game.” [Hobson is the chair of the Starbucks board.] It’s a way to alert people about how they can support the campaign.

Sip-ins [where supporters gather in a store to drink coffee] are another way. Sometimes workers call for sip-ins to happen in the week before their election, to pump people up, or if they know there’s going to be a particular kind of union-busting in their store on that day. Some sip-ins have been effective in canceling [mandatory anti-union] captive-audience meetings.

There are lots of creative ways that customers are supporting picket lines [during strikes]. About 90 percent of picket lines have been successful at closing down the store. In some others, the company manages to get enough managers in the store to keep getting coffee out the window. But customers have supported in all kinds of creative ways, including finding ways to be disruptive in the drive-through line. These are not tactics devised by workers or the campaign at all, just things that customers are coming up with.

If you sign the pledge, the first thing we’ll ask you to do is to adopt a store. If you adopt a store, we’ll hook you up with one in your area that’s union, so you can find a way to support that store, and help create a system of aid for those workers.

Labor Day Plans

For Labor Day we’re really focused on having sip-ins at every single unionized or unionizing store. We’re going to try to do at least 300. Workers are also using that weekend to deliver petitions and hold marches on the boss. I would not be surprised if there are strike actions in protest of ULPs [unfair labor practice charges the union has brought to the NLRB] on that day or on that weekend.

We want to get 30,000 more signers on the No Contract, No Coffee pledge on Labor Day weekend. Because we know we’re going to need massive public support.

We have to bring a lot of economic pressure to bear on Starbucks. I think strikes are an important piece of that. But we need a hell of a lot of solidarity from allies in order to amplify the voices of workers at the stores that have organized.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on August 25, 2022. Published with permission.

About the Author: Daisy Pitkin is the national field director for Starbucks Workers United. This blog is a transcription of her responses in an interview.

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The New Labor Movement Is Young, Worker-Led and Winning

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Katie Barrows

This year, May Day was celebrated during a historic moment for the American labor movement. Nearly every day, news reports announce another example of workers exercising their rights as nonprofit professionals, Starbucks workers, and employees at corporations like Amazon, REI and Conde Nast announce their union drives. The approval rating for labor unions has reached its highest point in over 50 years, standing at 68 percent, and petitions for new union elections at the National Labor Relations Board increased 57 percent during the first half of fiscal year 2021.

Three years ago, we (In These Times) wrote an op-ed about how young workers in historically unorganized occupations — such as digital journalism, higher education and nonprofit organizations — were beginning to rebuild the labor movement. Today, Covid-19 has changed the way that we relate to work and created new sources of economic anxiety, while exacerbating old ones. Yet, young workers continue to fuel the new labor movement as they form new unions to win back a degree of control over their futures in a world fundamentally altered by a global pandemic. With momentum in union organizing and worker activism still growing, it is important to recognize the ways that workers in every industry are helping the labor movement live up to its values and reverse the years-long decline in union density. 

Through organizing campaigns at the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union, we’ve learned that successful new organizing campaigns must be member-led. Recent organizing victories at Amazon in Staten Island and at Starbucks stores across the country have reinforced the importance of workers themselves being empowered to be the drivers of their own organizing campaigns. We’ve also seen this in other traditionally unorganized sectors, such as political campaigns, digital media and tech.

There are a variety of reasons why member-led organizing campaigns tend to be more effective. One is the commitment that worker-led union organizing requires — leading a union organizing campaign is not for the faint of heart. Worker-leaders must be dedicated, and their time and energy investment means they have more skin in the game. Additionally, these workers build genuinely supportive relationships with their coworkers through one-on-one conversations, working in teams on union materials, and happy hours that bring more workers into the organizing drive. The relationships built during a worker-led organizing campaign helps workers to feel supported, as they know that their coworkers have their back. This collective approach also solidifies workers’ resolve to push back on empty rhetoric from their employer.

Member-driven campaigns are also key to combating bosses’ anti-union campaigns. When workers are active in setting campaign strategy, reaching out to their coworkers, and driving the narrative of the union campaign, they can successfully push back on corporate union-busters’ messaging that the union is a “third-party” or “outside agitator” — because workers know that they are their union.

The significance of momentum can not be understated. In all of these newly organized industries, we’ve seen the power a single union victory can have when it sparks a new consciousness among workers who previously didn’t know they could join a union, or didn’t think unions existed that understood and could address their specific concerns. Union wins years ago at Gawker, the Center for American Progress and Kickstarter helped incite the momentum for new organizing, and laid the groundwork for the campaigns we are seeing today. 

We’ve also learned the importance of publicizing our unions’ tangible contract gains. Workers want to be a part of a union that’s effective at improving their pay, benefits, and working conditions, so we as a labor movement need to make the public aware of our wins. That’s why our union and others in newly organized spaces will shout our wins from the rooftops with press releases, social media posts, news stories, and through any other means that will spread the word.

Today’s unions are making incredible gains and raising workplace standards.

Katie Barrow and Ethan Miller

Today’s unions are making incredible gains and raising workplace standards. For example, members of our union at the Center for American Progress recently won a new contract that raised starting salaries by 20 percent over three years, secured annual raises of between 2-2.5 percent, and codified junior staff’s right to be credited on research and policy publications that they work on. Union members at G/O Media ratified a new contract that raised the organization’s salary floor to $62,000, includes trans-inclusive healthcare and prevents forced relocation for remote staff. At NPR, union journalists won 20 weeks of paid parental leave, a hiring process that commits to interviewing more candidates from underrepresented groups, and regular pay equity reviews. The more folks outside of the labor movement know about these victories, the more they will want to learn more about forming a union in their own workplaces. 

Millennials and Gen Z are excited, energized, and winning new gains and a new sense of power at work. For the labor movement to continue to grow, we must learn from each other, continue implementing the strategies that are winning union organizing campaigns, and support new, young leaders. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 9, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katie Barrows and Ethan Miller are the President and Secretary-Treasurer of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union, IFPTE Local 70, which is made up of the staff of 49 organizations in Washington, DC and across the country.

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Starbucks broke the law more than 200 times in effort to squash union organizing, labor board says

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Laura Clawson

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is taking Starbucks’ union-busting campaign very seriously. The board’s regional director in Buffalo issued a complaint late Friday accusing the company of 29 unfair labor practices involving 200 violations of the law.

The complaint specifically names interim CEO Howard Schultz for dangling improved benefits if workers didn’t unionize, and calls on Schultz or Executive Vice President Rossann Williams to make clear to workers what their rights are—the very rights that Starbucks has so dramatically been trampling on—as well as calling for the company to provide “equal time to address employees if they are convened by [Starbucks] for ‘captive audience’ meetings.” The complaint also calls on Starbucks to reinstate seven fired workers, with back pay.

The NLRB complaint also points to Starbucks closing stores in Buffalo as workers started organizing, retaliatory discipline and firings of union supporters, and “unprecedented and repeated” visits by top national executives to the Buffalo stores.

”Starbucks has been saying that no union-busting ever occurred in Buffalo. Today, the NLRB sets the record straight. The complaint confirms the extent and depravity of Starbucks’ conduct in Western New York for the better part of a year,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement. “Starbucks will be held accountable for the union-busting minefield they forced workers to walk through in fighting for their right to organize. This Complaint fully unmasks Starbucks’ façade as a ‘progressive company’ and exposes the truth of Howard Schultz’s anti-union war.”

“Starbucks is finally being held accountable for the union-busting rampage they went on.”

– Former Starbucks Employee, Danny Rojas.

”Starbucks is finally being held accountable for the union-busting rampage they went on,” said fired Buffalo Shift Supervisor Danny Rojas—one of the seven whose reinstatement the complaint calls for—in the statement. “It is disappointing that Starbucks has refused to work with their partners and instead chose to fire union leaders like myself. Today, the NLRB is validating that the psychological warfare and intimidation tactics that took place in Starbucks stores was unacceptable. Starbucks needs to understand that it is morally corrupt to retaliate against union leaders and I am looking forward to the NLRB forcing Starbucks to make this moment right.”

Despite this aggressive and often illegal anti-union campaign, Starbucks workers have voted to unionize at more than 50 stores so far.

If Starbucks doesn’t settle—which a statement from a company spokesman indicated would not happen—the complaint will go to trial.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 9, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor. 

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Starbucks is very unhappy about all the customers ordering drinks under the name ‘Union Strong’

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Laura Clawson – Netroots Nation

Starbucks keeps escalating its anti-union campaign, taking it ever more public and more blatant. From quietly shifting national-level managers into the first stores where workers organized, to firing pro-union workers, to interim CEO Howard Schultz whining volubly about the “assault” on Starbucks, the company has ratcheted up and up, and it’s not stopping.

This week, Starbucks announced pay raises and new benefits, including improved sick leave and credit card tipping—but not at stores where workers are organizing. It’s a direct bribe/threat: Stay quiet, and we’ll be nice. Organize, and get the short end of the stick.

Starbucks claimed that it would be illegal to unilaterally change conditions where workers are organizing, but Matthew Bodie, a law professor and former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lawyer, told The New York Times, ”If Starbucks said, ‘Drop the union campaign and you’ll get this wage increase and better benefits,’ that’d clearly be illegal,” and it’s “Hard to see how this is that much different in practice.” Starbucks Workers United has filed an unfair labor practice complaint over the company’s action, and has explained that while the company can’t unilaterally impose changes on a store that’s unionized, it can and should offer the changes to the union. That’s telling: Starbucks management is claiming that if it can’t act unilaterally, it can’t act at all, when really it’s time to start engaging the union as a bargaining counterpart.

Starbucks also took action against its own union-supporting customers. Many customers have been expressing support for the union by ordering under names like “Union Strong.” Starbucks is done putting up with that, instructing managers to not call out the names on those orders.

Starbucks even acknowledged, in a recent government filing, that “Our responses to any union organizing efforts could negatively impact how our brand is perceived and have adverse effects on our business, including on our financial results.”

The company knows this might not be so great for its image. And it’s not working. But executives are so committed to it that they’re even trying to silence customers.

About that “it’s not working” part: The union has a 90% win rate, according to a recent NLRB graph flagged by Steven Greenhouse. In recent days, that includes wins in several southern locations, including Tallahassee, Florida; Boone, North Carolina; and Farmville, Virginia, following an earlier win in Augusta, Georgia. On top of that, votes were held in four Massachusetts locations, and the union got a clean sweep, along with wins in Massapequa and Brooklyn, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Plover, Wisconsin; and Summit, New Jersey. While many of the union wins have been blowouts, the few losses have largely had very close margins, and some votes remain uncalled because the number of challenged ballots could shift the outcome.

While Starbucks has been an ongoing drip drip drip of good news on the union front, the recent surge of worker-driven organizing did suffer a significant defeat this week when the second Staten Island Amazon warehouse to vote on union representation was a lopsided no. The fact that a group of workers forming an independent union and organizing against the multimillion-dollar union-busting campaign of one of the biggest companies in the world got one win remains massive, even if the second try didn’t replicate that success. But if the LDJ5 warehouse had voted to unionize, it would have suggested a truly seismic shift, especially given that even a small Amazon warehouse has as many workers as dozens of Starbucks stores.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor. 

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Starbucks Workers Are Facing Down One of the Most Intense Union-Busting Campaigns in Decades

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Workers at more than 100 Starbucks stores in 27 states have filed union petitions for elections. In response, the company has launched a relentless anti-union effort.

In interviews, Starbucks workers tell In These Times that starting a union campaign is the first time they’ve felt hopeful in their adult lives. ?“A lot of us have gotten used to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness when it comes to our jobs,” says Rachel Ybarra, 22, an organizer at a Starbucks in Seattle. ?“But unionizing can give you a sense of agency,” Ybarra adds.

“If a union is involved, your coworkers have the power to go to bat for you.”

In Memphis, Tenn., Nikki Taylor, at age 32, is one of the oldest Starbucks baristas at the busy corner of Poplar Avenue and S. Highland Street. She says she feels like a mother figure to a ?“close-knit, regular barbecue-type family.” When she started as a shift supervisor two years ago, working in the café was a dream job?—?but this soon changed.

During the pandemic her store has faced chronic staffing shortages and baristas have been tasked with the work of three or four people. ?“You’re getting hundreds of drink orders, making them all yourself, still having to give that ultimate customer service,” Taylor says.

So workers began to talk. ?“When you’re working alongside people going through the same thing every day, you guys bond so much,” Taylor says.

One concern was pay. The starting wage at the store is about $12, and some workers take multiple jobs to make ends meet, Taylor says. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, the living wage in Memphis is $13.26 for a single adult, $18.02 for a family of four.

Another issue was Covid-19 policy. Vaccinated workers who were exposed to Covid-19 but had no symptoms were expected to work their shifts. During the highly contagious Omicron wave of the virus this winter, workers say they’d see people with known exposures come in for work, only to develop symptoms while on the clock.

Asked for comment, ?“Anthony D.,” a corporate Starbucks representative, told In These Times in an emailed statement, ?“Throughout the pandemic, we have met and exceeded the latest direction from the CDC. … Over and above that, all leaders are empowered to make any changes make sense [sic] for their neighborhood, which includes shortening store hours or moving to 100 percent take-out only.”

Taylor says the store’s policies still presented a dilemma: “[Do] I not get paid and be at home and try to be safe?—?and then not be paying my bills? Or go to work and continue to be exposed?”

In January, Taylor contracted the virus soon after working alongside someone with a known exposure. At home, Taylor exposed her fiancé and 8?year-old daughter, who developed a 102-degree fever days later. The previous month, a location in Buffalo, N.Y., had become the first unionized Starbucks café in the country. (Some smaller Starbucks ?“kiosks,” such as those inside grocery stores and airports, do run under union contracts with the larger venue.)

When Taylor heard that, she thought her Memphis store might have a real shot at a union, too. She contacted Starbucks Workers United, the Buffalo-based campaign assisted by Workers United, itself an independent affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

When they replied, Taylor says, she jumped and cried with excitement. 

The Starbucks union drive went public in Memphis on January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day?—?a deeply personal event for many of the Memphis workers.

“We have [workers] here that were born and raised in Memphis, whose grandparents were in those same rallies and walks that Martin Luther King Jr. did,” says Beto Sanchez, 25, an R&B and jazz musician who began working at the Memphis café after the pandemic decimated the music industry. ?“We are practically 10 minutes away from Lorraine Motel [where King was assassinated]. Whether it was the Kellogg’s strike, whether it was the sanitation workers, there’s a lot of union history in this city.”

But immediately, workers say, they felt like they were under surveillance, with high-level managers frequenting the store, loitering in the café and watching the counter.

On February 8, Taylor, Sanchez and five other union supporters were fired without warning. The company cited minor policy violations that workers and a former store manager, Amy Holden, say were never enforced nor taught in training.

?“One of the employees literally walked in, signed her union card, took a sip of a drink and left?—?and she was fired,” Taylor says.

Starbucks rep Anthony D. claims the workers ?“violated several safety and security policies and protocols, including opening the store after hours, allowing unauthorized personnel inside, leaving the doors unlocked and opening the safe without permission.” Workers reply that, on the night being referenced, they did let a local news crew film in their lobby, all within 10 minutes of the store closing, which they say is company policy?—?but then they talked about the union campaign on camera.

“How we got fired is not why we got fired,” Sanchez tells In These Times. He notes he was the one fired for opening the safe while off-shift, though he generally had that authority as a shift supervisor. He also points out an irony: ?“Starbucks decided to tweet about Martin Luther King Jr. and then … decided to fire Black workers here in Memphis for unionizing.” Two of the seven fired workers, including Taylor, are Black.

“It’s union-busting, completely,” Taylor says. ?“We were loud, we were bold and the company tried to use us as examples. … That scare tactic wildly backfired.”

News of the firings spread rapidly, and the workers became known as ?“the Memphis 7.” Workers and community members gather outside the Poplar and Highland store early each morning to picket in solidarity. Within a week, rallies demanding their reinstatement sprang up in Boston, Chicago and on the doorstep of Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. Starbucks responded to the Memphis pickets by drastically reducing store hours in the name of ?“worker safety.” Sanchez says this shows they’re hitting the company ?“where it hurts … in the wallet.”

Since the first Starbucks union campaign succeeded in Buffalo, N.Y., in December 2021, more than 110 Starbucks stores in 27 states have filed union petitions for elections. That effort encompasses more than 2,000 workers, from Miami-Dade to Seattle.

Common goals include a living wage, access to benefits, adequate staffing, consistent scheduling, more hours, improved health and safety conditions, proper training?—?and for ?“partners,” the corporate lingo Starbucks uses to refer to employees, to actually be treated like ?“partners.”

For Ky Fireside, 31, who works at a Starbucks in Eugene, Ore., one driving force is a living wage. After nearly seven years at the store, Fireside makes $14.70 an hour. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, the living wage in Eugene is $15.58 for a single adult, $22.10 for a family of four.

“In my store, we’ve got three partners who have been with the company for over 15 years,” Fireside says. ?“These aren’t people working temporary jobs, these are people that are trying to support their family on this income. I’m in my 30s, this is my career. And we’re watching the prices of everything go up, including the coffee that we serve.”

Starbucks has touted itself as an industry leader in wages and benefits, pledging to raise wages nationwide to a range of $15 to $23 by this summer. Benefits include paid parental leave, healthcare plans that cover gender-affirming procedures, and tuition for an online degree at Arizona State University.

According to Fireside, however, less than half of the 30 workers at the Eugene location are scheduled enough hours to be eligible for benefits.

“I’m on state healthcare,” Fireside says. ?“Starbucks doesn’t pay me enough to buy health insurance and does not work me enough hours to qualify for Starbucks insurance.” Starbucks requires its workers to average 24 hours a week to qualify for the health insurance benefit, which, on the recommended plan, still costs workers a minimum of $84 each month.

Brick Zurek, 25, a Starbucks worker in downtown Chicago, says their store organized after management’s dismal response to workers receiving death threats in December 2021. When a customer threatened to shoot up the store one night, Zurek says, management refused to allow the store to close early. ?“Starbucks really laid the foundations [for organizing] themselves, on accident,” Zurek says. ?“When we were so understaffed, when we were threatened, and when we were scared?—?we were taking care of each other. … We were forming those bonds and connections.”

Meanwhile, as these small union campaigns await their election dates from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), they are facing a multimillion-dollar anti-union effort considered to be one of the most intense in decades.

In These Times spoke with more than a dozen Starbucks workers trying to unionize their shops. They say, within weeks of their filing for an election, corporate broke out the union-busting playbook. Common tactics include disciplining workers for infractions that were never a concern previously (such as wearing buttons on their aprons or even how they tie their aprons), hiring new workers en masse to dilute the union vote at the store, tense meetings with workers, and surveillance on the floor.

During Buffalo’s campaign, organizers from Workers United say corporate flew in more than 100 ?“support managers’’ from across the country, including such high-ranking corporate officials as former CEO Howard Schultz, to cafés throughout the district. They began hosting mandatory ?“listening sessions” between managers and workers. The sessions run under a pretext of addressing grievances, but management uses them to disseminate ?“facts” about unions. 

Workers at other stores with unionizing efforts say the listening sessions, once unheard of, are now routine. While it’s illegal for management to threaten to take away benefits in response to a union campaign, In These Times spoke with Starbucks workers who say managers imply their current benefits won’t be guaranteed with a union, claim that union dues are expensive and suggest that a ?“third party” (i.e., the union) ?“will get between” workers and management.

Fireside says listening sessions are a daily occurrence in Eugene and workers in a district-wide group chat alert each other when management is en route, so they can prepare. Fireside adds that, in addition to pulling workers off the floor during busy shifts, the sessions cause stress in other ways, like the anxiety that comes with being cornered. ?“They say things like, ?‘You never know what’s going to happen in a contract: You could lose your benefits, and then where would you be? Where would your kids be?’”

After some sessions, Fireside says, workers leave the floor to cry privately.

Starbucks Workers United has filed an NLRB complaint of unfair labor practices, alleging that the company waged a campaign of interference, intimidation and coercion during the Eugene union drive.

As of March 1, all eight Eugene cafés had filed for a union election.

“You wouldn’t expect us to be the first store, after Buffalo, to unionize?—?but we did,” says Tyler Ralston proudly. Ralston works at a small, ?“hole-in-the-wall” Starbucks ?“connected to a Smashburger” in Mesa, Ariz., a conservative community in a state not known for its union support. 

Workers felt compelled to unionize, Ralston says, when manager Brittany Harrison was fired after leaking a video she recorded of Starbucks corporate coaches warning Arizona managers against union organizing. Harrison shared the video with Starbucks Workers United and the New York Times, and “[corporate] started calling me, asking if I was the ?‘whistleblower,’” Harrison says in an interview with More Perfect Union. Harrison put in her notice to quit, but was fired instead.

In response, workers in Mesa filed for a union election Nov. 18, 2021. As one of the earliest stores to file, they have been subject to corporate’s full arsenal of anti-union tactics. Within weeks, three new managers were hired to oversee the store?—?who, according to workers, spent most of their days just sitting in the lobby on laptops or watching employees at the counter.

Starbucks began holding ?“captive audience meetings,” meetings in which management tries to dissuade workers from unionizing. (These types of meetings would be banned under the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, a pro-labor bill currently stalled in Congress.) Workers who had been outspoken about the union were taken to a meeting at an offsite hotel, while everyone else talked at the store.

Ralston was outraged at what he says were ?“intimidation tactics,” and printed out a 12-page document detailing workers’ allegations of mistreatment, passing it around at a captive audience meeting in December 2021.

“I thought it was time for [management] to feel intimidated,” Ralston says.

Ralston was then called into a meeting with two managers. ?“We sat down at a table and they called me a bully to my face,” Ralston says. ?“They said I needed to apologize [to the store managers] because of the union and everything that [the union] has done to them.”

Ralston, of course, did not.

Then, in advance of the February election, management began mass-hiring new workers, a tactic the union alleges is used to dilute the vote; staffing went from 25 to 40. According to Ralston, the in flux of hires caused chaos, at times doubling the number of workers necessary, reducing hours and diluting tips.

Starbucks has also contracted legal services from Littler Mendelson, one of the largest and most notorious union-busting law firms in the country, with hourly rates reportedly as high as $600 to $700. The firm worked with McDonald’s and Uber during two of the largest labor battles of the last decade: the national fight for a $15 minimum wage, and the corporate campaign to pass California’s Proposition 22, which classified app-based gig workers as contractors rather than employees.

Starbucks is not required to disclose how much they’re paying Littler Mendelson, though in a February review of NLRB filings, HuffPost found at least 30 Littler lawyers attached to Starbucks cases.

Starbucks does seem concerned that the company’s anti-union efforts are hurting its image as a forward-thinking corporate citizen, writing in a February 1 report to the SEC that ?“our responses to any union organizing efforts could negatively impact how our brand is perceived and have adverse effects on our business.”

Starbucks’ ?“Anthony D.” tells In These Times, ?“From the beginning, we have been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. Our position since the beginning is all of our partners in a market or district deserve the right to vote.”

But Workers United organizer Richard Bensinger, 71, former national organizing director of the AFL-CIO, sees no sign of Starbucks letting up on its anti-union efforts. ?“This has to be the most intense [anti-union] campaign in modern U.S. history, and there’s really nothing in second place,” Bensinger says.

On February 16, for example?—?the day the Mesa store’s votes were scheduled to be counted?—?corporate Starbucks lawyers appealed to the NLRB to delay the vote count, arguing that stores should vote district-wide rather than one by one. Organizers allege the goal of this tactic is to dilute the vote. Starbucks lost the appeal.

?“They’ve lost this case [for district-wide votes] [four] times now, and they’re going to lose it 100 times,” says Bensinger, who works with the Buffalo union campaigns. ?“This is 50 years of legal precedent.”

Starbucks also lost the union vote?—?with a landslide 25?–?3 win for the workers of the Mesa café, which became the third unionized Starbucks in the United States.

But for every successful union drive, Bensinger notes, countless stores silently buckle under immense corporate pressure before filing. Bensinger describes one failed effort at a store in Buffalo where 80 percent of workers signed union cards; Starbucks simply closed the store and converted it into a training center, relocating the workers to stores that were miles away. Most of them quit.

This store reopened after publishing and won their union election?—?by one vote?—?on March 9.

“We’ve passed 100 [organized] stores,” Bensinger says. ?“That’s great. But that’s in spite of what [corporate] is doing.”

Previously, the only union to try to organize Starbucks nationwide was the Industrial Workers of the World, with a campaign that started in 2004. They never won a union election, and the campaign was hindered by relentless corporate anti-union efforts and high worker turnover (often due to firings the union said were retaliatory); the effort died out by 2017. But by garnering free media attention, organizers did pressure image-conscious Starbucks into regional wage increases, fairer scheduling and one additional paid holiday?—?Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

When Workers United began organizing cafés in Buffalo in 2019, Starbucks was not a consideration.

While on the picket with striking Rainforest Cafe workers in Niagara Falls, Canada, Bensinger was approached by workers from SPoT Coffee, a Buffalo-based chain. Those initial organizers were fired in short order, but SPoT workers won a union that year.

Bensinger says that union election was a rallying cry for Buffalo’s labor and progressive community. After SPoT workers secured a strong contract (the median hourly pay rose $4), workers at the Starbucks across the street took notice. They soon reached out to Workers United.

“The partners really get the campaigns going,” Bensinger says. By 2021, Starbucks Workers United had formed an organizing committee with more than 100 workers from Starbucks across Buffalo, training them in union organizing.

“It’s all organic,” Bensinger says. ?“Any good organizing campaign is either run by the workers, or you lose.”

Workers United formed in 2009 (by splitting off from Unite Here) and operates as an ?“independent affiliate” of the SEIU. The Starbucks unionizing effort, however, bears little resemblance to the SEIU’s Fight for $15 campaign, which attempted to organize fast-food workers nationwide for “$15 and a union,” and for which the union hired dozens of organizers in 2011 and 2012, investing millions.

For starters, Fight for $15 was not focused on store-by-store organizing. Its primary strategies were to build momentum for a $15 minimum wage while pushing the NLRB to allow franchises (such as McDonald’s) to be unionized at the national level, rather than shop by shop. The SEIU lost its case under the Trump-era NLRB, then lost a final appeal in 2021.

Starbucks Workers United, however, is a worker-led campaign with support from Workers United. The union is primarily made up of volunteer organizers from around the country who continue to work at Starbucks and serve on their cafés’ organizing committees. Fewer than 20 paid organizers with Workers United nationwide help by facilitating communication between stores and filling support roles like printing and delivering union cards. The union is not planning new hires. Instead, at national trainings, workers at active campaigns learn to move other stores in their region through the process.

Casey Moore, 25, a Starbucks worker in Buffalo, runs communications for Starbucks Workers United as a volunteer. Moore had never been involved in a union campaign before joining her store’s organizing committee. Now, she helps new stores start organizing every day. 

“I joke now that I don’t have a life; this is my life,” says Moore. ?“But I think it’s the coolest thing ever to be a part of.”

Workers interested in learning more about unionizing often email Starbucks Workers United or reach out via Twitter and Instagram, accounts run entirely by Starbucks workers. Since the Memphis 7 firings, Moore says, there’s been a surge in organizing.

?“I’ve heard from a lot of partners that this just angered them and was the driving force telling them to message us,” Moore says.

“I’m on Zoom call after Zoom call, just listening,” Bensinger says. ?“On many of the calls, I never say a word?—?just marvel at it. It’s an honor just to listen to them. And everybody knows exactly what to do. The partners all are wired in through social media and they share everything. The second something new happened in a store, it’s all over social media. They’re wickedly, devastatingly funny and positive.”

Starbucks Workers United is also building a virtual network of organizers to share resources, answers to common questions, organizing strategies and updates on corporate tactics. If a new anti-union leaflet pops up in Seattle, for example, Moore says a worker in Knoxville or Cleveland can confirm they’ve seen identical material and share how they responded.

“A lot of the things that people are asking for,” Moore says, ?“are, ?‘What can I share with my coworkers to dispel these lies that Starbucks is telling to scare people?’ And answering questions like, ?‘What is a union? What do we fight for with the union? Why organize? What’s collective bargaining?’”

Labor historians are connecting the Starbucks Workers United momentum with the wave of labor militancy that began in 2018 when West Virginia public school teachers went on strike.

Importantly, “[the teachers] framed the strike as being about community, rather than about just being themselves,” says Erik Loomis, associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. ?“It’s about dignity. It’s about fairness.”

Christian Sweeney, deputy organizing director of the AFL-CIO, confirms the AFL-CIO has seen a significant increase in organizing interest since 2018. He notes, however, that larger labor unions have limited appetite for organizing a few dozen workers at a time, store by store, as the Starbucks campaign is doing. Though the campaign is growing rapidly, the number of stores that have organized for an election are a fraction of the 9,000 company-operated Starbucks in the United States. And across all sectors, U.S. union density has been on the decline for decades, bottoming out at about 10 percent within the past few years.

Instead, Sweeney says, unions have been looking for ways to work around a ?“terribly broken” NLRB process by putting resources into getting reform legislation, such as the PRO Act, passed.

The PRO Act, however, is likely stalled in the current Congress without filibuster reform. Sweeney sees in the Starbucks campaign one alternate way forward.

“Waves of labor movement growth [in the 1880s, 1910s, 1930s and 1950s] have been associated with different ways that workers figured out how to organize, reflective of both changes in the economy, but also changes in the ways that work is organized,” Sweeney says. ?“I think we’re on the verge of bigger things to come, and these Starbucks workers might just be the caffeine that we all need to figure out the next thing.”

“Maybe there are lessons to learn from this for established labor unions, that if you can get in the door, you can create this wave you’re seeing in Starbucks,” Loomis agrees. ?“There’s lots of other kinds of companies, both in fast food and other forms of service industries, that can easily build on this.” Loomis cautions that rebuilding a powerful labor movement will take decades, just as building one did.

On lunch breaks and after clocking out for the night, workers brush past management and head straight for the picket.

“It does give me hope every day knowing that people are starting to recognize the power that they have, as a collective force, as a workforce,” says Sanchez from the Memphis store. He adds that ?“there are always going to be more of us” and hopes the rest of the coffee industry will follow suit, ?“whether it’s the coffee farmers, whether it’s the suppliers, whether it’s the manufacturing area.” As of press time, two of the nation’s three flagship Starbucks roasteries have filed to hold union elections.

In the midst of a fierce corporate intimidation campaign, organizers say that public attention and community support are crucial. ?“Everybody’s rallied around the Starbucks workers, and that’s what it’s going to take to win, because you have to get [Starbucks] to stop their anti-unionism,” Bensinger says.

When captive audience meetings began at one of the first Starbucks to file for an election in Portland, Ore., members of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Teamsters and other union members occupied the café with a ?“solidarity sip-in” at a table adjacent to management. Management was eventually forced to conduct meetings outside.

When the first captive audience meeting hit the downtown Chicago store, a crowd of 50 from Workers United and the other two Chicago stores with unionizing efforts picketed directly outside.

Members of the Memphis 7 say workers there have since formed a new organizing committee and are going harder than ever. On lunch breaks and after clocking out for the night, workers brush past management and head straight for the picket.

“Like I said, we’re a family,” Taylor says. ?“You hurt one family member, you hurt them all.”

This blog post was originally printed at In These Times on March 21, 2022.

About the Author: Hannah Faris is associate editor at The Wisconsin Idea, an independent reporting project of People’s Action Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and In These Times.

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How Starbucks Workers Won in Mesa

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Starbucks Workers United (SWU) won its third store election February 28 in Mesa, Arizona. The vote was an overwhelming 25-3, with three additional contested ballots, despite heavy anti-union pressure from the company and in a state with only 5.4 percent union density.

“We led with kindness and care and just did our jobs in the face of union-busting from upper management,” said shift supervisor Liz Alanna, who helped lead the effort. Shift supervisors coordinate the day-to-day running of a store but are eligible for union membership because they don’t have hiring and firing power.

The Mesa store at Powerline and Baseline Roads became the first U.S. company-run store outside Buffalo to be unionized in the recent organizing wave.

Starbucks Workers United is now three for four in the elections held so far—and workers at more than 110 more locations have filed or announced their intention to unionize. A Canadian Starbucks also filed to unionize separately with the Steelworkers (USW) in January.

In Mesa, the company’s retaliation against a cancer-afflicted manager drove workers into the arms of SWU and Workers United, the Service Employees (SEIU) affiliate that has been supporting these union drives nationwide.


‘It was just a huge slap in the face that our manager has leukemia, we never got support from another assistant store manager, and it was holiday season and we were getting slammed,” said Alanna.

The manager, 29-year-old Brittany Harrison, had been diagnosed with leukemia in October. Harrison requested paid leave, which was denied, and asked for an assistant manager to help at the store, which was also denied. She wanted to be able to make medical appointments and take care of herself as she coped with both the diagnosis and the illness.

But in November, when Harrison became aware of Starbucks’ planned union-busting strategy in Buffalo through a corporate meeting, she blew the whistle on the company. Harrison spoke anonymously to the media about a plan to send hundreds of managers to Buffalo Starbucks. She also made contact with Starbucks Worker United members in Buffalo.

Higher-ups stopped communicating with her. “I was getting ghosted by my supervisor and that sucked,” Harrison said. “My health was deteriorating.”

Starbucks company-owned stores are run by managers like Harrison, who have hiring and firing power and are not eligible to join barista unions. Above them are district managers who are responsible for multiple stores in the same area. Below them are assistant store managers, shift supervisors, and baristas, all of whom have been eligible to vote for the union. (NLRB regional directors so far have deferred the question of whether assistant store managers will ultimately be included in the bargaining unit to post-election proceedings.)

A bronchitis outbreak hit the store on November 10 and multiple workers called out. Harrison felt unwell November 11 and called out sick; the district manager told her that night she was not allowed to call out even though there were multiple shift supervisors present, and questioned her leadership ability.

The district manager went so far as to order Harrison to work the next day even though she had not been scheduled.

That night at 3 a.m., Harrison called her again to tell her she was too sick to work, but the district manager didn’t pick up her phone. Harrison even texted her photos of the temperature reader that showed she had a fever, but got no response.

The store was already short-staffed, and Harrison was forced to come in.

She ended up working until she collapsed to the floor after six hours. Unable to get up, she defecated on herself. Even then, she was forced to stay another hour because her district manager failed to send someone to cover for her in a timely way.

“This company will not be happy until I work myself to death,” Harrison remembers thinking. She put in her two weeks’ notice that day at the corporation she had once expected to retire at.

Starbucks fired her three days later, citing an “open investigation”; the charges were not disclosed to Harrison. Her Starbucks health benefits were cut off on November 16.

The coffee giant made $816 million in profits from roughly October through January and expanded by 484 stores in the quarter.


Starbucks eventually tried to walk back the firing, claiming in a mass email to partners that it had never happened. By then, though, the cat was out of the bag.

When word spread through a group chat, “we were all really upset,” said Michelle Hejduk, a shift supervisor and worker leader. “People were talking about quitting. Somebody said ‘unionizing’—and everybody knew I was the main one that would talk about it with everybody.”

Hejduk had previously been an IATSE member in custodial work at Universal Studios in California and an SEIU member doing costuming at Disneyland.

She called Alanna that night; the two had talked politics before. Alanna remains a member of the American Guild of Musical Artists from her past work as an opera singer.

“Both of us were scared at first that we would get fired or lose our jobs,” Alanna said. She was pregnant and nearly due; she didn’t want to risk losing her family’s health insurance and owing thousands of dollars in hospital bills.

But after the pair talked with Workers United organizing adviser Richard Bensinger about legal protections for workers trying to unionize, they felt reassured enough to move forward.

By November 16, just four days after Harrison had collapsed in the store, the workers had enough cards to file for a union authorization election.

SWU raised $30,000 through crowdfunding to support Harrison, the uninsured and cancer-stricken whistleblower, in a striking display of reciprocal solidarity.

The Mesa store is not the only one where workers allege a retaliatory firing. In February, Starbucks fired seven unionizing workers in a Memphis store. Cassie Fleischer, a bargaining committee member, was also terminated from the Buffalo Elmwood location that was the first to win a union.


Like other Starbucks workers organizing around the country, Mesa baristas were motivated by understaffing, pressure to come to work sick, the company’s reluctance to stop accepting mobile orders when a store is overwhelmed, and a lack of worker voice.

“People who sit behind a computer do not know how to make a latte, do not know how to clean a toilet—we need to have a say,” said Alanna.

Many Starbucks workers around the country said that people tend to underestimate the amount of physical labor they’re required to do in an environment where there’s pressure to be efficient and customer-pleasing at all times. This includes everything from heavy lifting to being on your feet all day—in some shifts, for almost six hours with only a ten-minute break.

Another concern at the Mesa store was religious discrimination. Harrison, who is Jewish, filed a complaint against the district manager for anti-Semitism.

For example, when Harrison had a swastika painted on her house and the mezuzah torn off, the district manager suggested she should try to understand where the person who did it was coming from.

Harrison and workers in the store say that the district manager, whom Alanna described as “very Christian,” regularly prayed in meetings at which they were present.

“I’m Christian and even I find it very off-putting to have her reading a Christian story at the holiday meeting—I just think it’s weird,” Alanna said.


There were 25 workers for the Mesa store the day they filed for election. But in a union-busting move, Starbucks started hiring. The number of eligible voters ended up at 43.

“They hired half the store just to say ‘no,’” Alanna said.

The company also flooded the store with management—another tactic it has repeated around the country.

Whereas when Harrison was diagnosed with cancer Starbucks wouldn’t add a single assistant manager to help the workers in Mesa, now it added three, plus two managers.

“We called them the babysitters,” Hejduk said. “We were not allowed to be there without them.” One day she was scheduled for the morning, but because a new manager couldn’t come in, the store did not open until 1 p.m.

The managers held captive group meetings (“listening sessions”) and one-on-ones to pressure workers over the union. One manager cried as she told a worker, “I want you to vote ‘no’.”

Hejduk found the episode “totally bizarre.”

“They’ve done so much wild stuff,” she said. “We’ve been desensitized to everything that’s happened.”

As it has done around the country, Starbucks argued to the NLRB that the appropriate bargaining unit would be the whole district, not just one store.

The company lost on this issue in a regional director’s ruling, but then filed an appeal with the NLRB’s head office. A ruling on the appeal was not made by February 16, the day the Mesa votes were to be counted, even though Starbucks had already lost on this issue at the NLRB in Buffalo.

As a result, the final vote count for the Mesa store was postponed pending a decision by the Board’s head office. It was eventually held on February 28.

The NLRB’s decision against Starbucks set the size of the bargaining unit at the store level rather than the district. This is expected to allow the Board to more quickly stop the company’s procedural delays on this issue moving forward.


As the organizing drive continues to build, SWU is building worker-to-worker contacts nationwide.

The day the Mesa workers filed their cards with the NLRB, they met over Zoom with Colin Cochran, a Buffalo-based SWU member, who told them what union-busting tactics to expect.

“Starbucks uses the same playbook everywhere and we know the ins and outs of it,” Cochran said over email. “It’s really fulfilling to be able to help other stores.”

And among the Mesa workers themselves, Alanna said the process of organizing has forged a new sense of community.

“Previous to this, night workers might never talk to day workers,” she said. Now they’re all on the same group chat, and are going out for food and attending parties together.

“I’ve worked in four different stores and I’ve never felt this kind of camaraderie before,” Alanna said.

Within weeks, SWU will know if it has managed to replicate the successes in Mesa and Buffalo through election wins in more stores and in other parts of the country. Next up: Seattle and Boston.

This blog was originally printed at Labor Notes on March 5, 2022.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is an Assistant Editor of Labor Notes.

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Paid family leave policies show corporate America’s disdain for low-wage workers and their babies

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Becoming a parent is one more aspect of life poisoned by economic inequality in the United States, with people who are paid more than $75,000 a year twice as likely to get paid leave as people who are paid less than $30,000. And even companies that have touted their parental leave programs leave many of their workers out, giving paid leave to their salaried staff at corporate headquarters but not to the workers standing behind the cash registers or making the cappuccinos or fried chicken. A new report from Paid Leave for the United States highlights the inequality within major U.S. companies:

  • Starbucks has one of the most unequal policies—they provide 18 weeks of fully-paid leave for new mothers and 12 weeks fully paid for new fathers in corporate headquarters, but only six weeks for birth moms who are in-store employees (like baristas) and nothing for dads or adoptive parents in this employment category. Starbucks employs ~5,000 people in its corporate headquarters and ~150,000 in stores; meaning their highly-touted policy affects about 3% of their total U.S. workforce.
  • The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart, provides twelve weeks of paid leave for birth mothers who are corporate employees—but only 6-8 weeks at partial pay for birth moms who are among the 1.2 million hourly employees in their stores – if they work full time.
  • Yum! Brands offers 18 weeks paid parental leave to birth mothers, and 6 weeks to dads and adoptive parents who work in the corporate office only. Field employees, who work for franchises such as KFC and Pizza Hut, receive no paid family leave.

A few companies do have equal leave policies for their corporate and frontline workers: Ikea, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Nike (though it leaves out part-time employees), Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Hilton, and Apple.

Just six percent of low-wage workers have any paid leave at all, which is why a quarter of new mothers are back on the job within 10 days. That means that not only are new mothers leaving their newborn babies, they’re working before they are physically recovered from childbirth.

 And no paid leave can also mean no flexibility even for emergencies; a Walmart worker named Jasmine Dixon told PL+US that:

“I had no paid leave and had to go back to work at Walmart two weeks after childbirth. I took Zyon to his first 2-week doctor’s check-up and found out that he needed to go back to the hospital urgently. They took him away in an ambulance – I was terrified for him, and that I might be risking my job at Walmart by coming in late that day. I called my manager to let them know I had to go with my baby to the children’s hospital, but it didn’t matter – my store manager penalized me for missing work.”

This decision should not be left to individual companies. The baby of the worker behind the cash register deserves parents at home with her just as much as the baby of the worker behind the computer. Workers shouldn’t have to hope that they’re working at Ikea rather than Starbucks when they have a baby. Paid family leave should be the law of the United States as it is the law of most countries.

This blog originally appeared on DailyKos.com on May 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

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Starbucks Brews Challenge for Labor

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Whassup with Starbucks and labor? My research for Wrestling With Starbucks: Conscience, Capital, Cappuccino plunged me below the foam and the fury to discover a company rife with contradictions, and nowhere more clearly than in its dealings with workers.

In contrast to Wal-Mart, Starbucks is considered a leader in socially responsible business practices. It was an early adopter of health care for domestic partners, pioneered benefits for part-timers, has a vividly multiracial workforce (including top officials), emphasizes training, and often promotes from within, although the opportunities are diminishing along with the company’s stock price. In other words, when it comes to how it treats its workers, Starbucks is far better than the miserable norm.

What Wal-Mart and Starbucks share, though is a baseline hourly wage that generally hovers between seven and ten dollars. They also share an antipathy to unions. “We’re not anti-union, we’re pro-partner,” is the official Starbucks mantra; but while there is some validity to the latter assertion, the first part stretches credibility. Over the years, Starbucks has vigorously fought union organizing drives, sometimes to the point of illegality. As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote in his book, Pour Your Heart Into It (Hyperion, 1997), he wanted Starbucks workers “to believe in their hearts that management trusted them and treated them with respect. I was convinced that under my leadership, employees would come to realize that I would listen to their concerns. If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union.”

Indeed, it often seems that today’s unions are ill suited to meet the needs of younger workers or the challenges of organizing in the global economy. But as Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union rightly observes, “You look at a guy like Howard Schultz and you say, ‘Okay, you’re a really good employer, but you’re a corporation.’ When does somebody come into Starbucks and say, ‘these 50,000 dollars for manager salaries are too high; and these health care costs are really getting out of control….’ What is it that institutionalizes the good practices so it’s not noblesse oblige?”

What complicates the problem is that workplace democracy—one of the most important values that unions add—is not a money-making proposition. Yet, alongside blunting economic disparity, it is perhaps the foremost reason for unions to exist. For authentic worker issues to be incorporated into the debates over the global economy, not to mention the outcome, workers must have a collective presence of their own, one that transcends the individual workplace and has the potential to encompass the global marketplace. No matter how benevolent Starbucks might be, it’s not going to explicitly argue on behalf of worker concerns. Some of what’s good for General Motors or Starbucks might also benefit employees. But some of what makes life sustainable for workers, be it living wages, or health and safety regulations, can easily be sacrificed to corporate bottom lines unless there is a countervailing demand.

Already, with the plummeting economy, efforts to make Starbucks leaner and meaner are affecting the workforce, as “partners” are feeling more like disposable workers. When I first started my research, an astonishing number of employees gave the company kudos despite its flaws. Today, not so much. Recently, I took copies of my Starbucks book to some of the baristas and store managers I had interviewed. “I don’t know,” one of them told me. “When I started six years ago, this was the best job of its kind. Now it’s all about the money. It’s like nobody cares about us any more.”

That’s a real problem for Starbucks, and for all of us. As long as we mandate the sustainability of capital and leave worker rights to paternalism, our conscience will be at risk.

About the Author: Kim Fellner is the author of Wrestling With Starbucks: Conscience, Capital, Cappuccino (Rutgers University Press, July). She works in the labor movement.

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