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Starbucks Workers: Invest in Solidarity, Not Profits!

At the heart of the Starbucks corporation in Seattle, workers for the company protested work conditions and the retaliation which has become standard practice at stores with union campaigns.

Steve Leigh

September 14, 2022
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Protestors on a sidewalk holding a vinyl banner that says "Hey Starbucks, stop union busting!" In the foreground is another protestor holding a picket sign that says "stop the war on workers!"

Originally published in Worker’s Voice

“Investors Day” at Starbucks national headquarters didn’t go as planned. When potential investors arrived to talk to corporate management, they were greeted by 500 union workers and supporters. Their message was clear: Starbucks, Stop Union Busting!

The Starbucks Workers United campaign has progressed greatly in a few months. Over 230 stores have unionized nationally. A similar rally in Seattle last February drew only 200 people. Well over a dozen unions sent significant numbers of supporters today. They included: Martin Luther King County Labor Council AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union ( SEIU 775, 1199, 925, and Local 6), International Longshore and Warehouse Union ( ILWU ) Local 19, UNITE-HERE Local 8, Office and Professional Employees, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000, The Laborers Union, Communication Workers of America ( CWA), Union Pride ( LGBTQIA workers), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, The Drivers Union (Lyft and Uber), Sheetmetal Workers, American Federation of Teachers, Highline Education Association, Fire Fighters, a community group Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, and of course dozens of Starbucks workers.

After picketing on the public sidewalk, the picketers moved onto the sidewalk in front of the corporate office doors. The handful of security guards and cops looked nervous though no one tried to enter the building. Some of the favorite chants were: “Howard Schultz , you can’t hide! We can see your greedy side!” “Union power!” “What’s Disgusting? Union busting! What’s outrageous? Poverty Wages!” “What do we want? Union contract! When do we want it? Now!” “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”

After an hour of picketing, the union supporters gathered for a rally. A city council member and union officials spoke. Workers from the UNITE-HERE organizing drive at Homegrown, which sells expensive sandwiches, spoke, giving solidarity and asking for solidarity as well. They led chants of “No Justice, No Sandwich” and “No Justice, No Coffee.”

The main speakers were very articulate. Starbucks workers, whom the company calls “partners” detailed why the term “partner is a joke.” One said, “Inside, investors are deciding what to do with the money that we make for them. Tell Howard Schultz to stop union busting and give us a contract!” Another addressed poverty wages at Starbucks, noting, “We would just like to survive, thank you!” and sarcastically said, “I’m concerned we might be disrupting their meeting!”

Billie, a barista, addressed Melody Hopkins, chairwoman of Starbucks who also is a part owner of the Denver Broncos: “She has the power to stop union busting but chooses not to. She claims to be self-made but she made her way in and then closed the door behind her. If she is from the poor, she is engaged in class betrayal. She is leading the attack on low-wage workers. She should be eager to end wage inequality. The top 1% don’t want to share. They are on the wrong side of history!”

Mari noted that “Starbucks has been going downhill for years. They ignore us at every opportunity.”

Katie addressed the horrific conditions at her store: Management deliberately understaffed the store. Equipment kept breaking down. They put off the required deep cleaning. This led to a rat infestation. I came home with rashes from rat feces and mold. A pregnant worker, Amber, was told to work on weekends or be fired after working there for five years. Starbucks is not afraid to deliberately break the law and hurt workers. They rely on a high turnover of workers, poverty wages, and profits for billionaires. We need to show the billionaires that we are willing to fight for what we deserve. We went on strike and signed members up on the picket line.”

Jake said, “I’ve seen Starbucks try to grind us to dust for six years. The NLRB is toothless. The only thing that can stop them is solidarity. The more they grind us down, the stronger we become.”

Erin said, “Starbucks divests from the community and workers. They have abandoned their principles. They claim to support LGBTQIA rights but shut down the store in the center of the gay community. They claim to oppose racism, but shut down a store in the Central Area, the traditional Black area of Seattle. It was a center of community activity.”

A barrista from Eugene, Ore., connected the union drive to the climate crisis: “We can’t continue to act as if profit is the only motivator. If we are to exist, we need a sustainable world. One third of Pakistan is under water. You can’t sell coffee when one third of the country is under water. Some people don’t think it will happen here, but it already is. The coffee belt is the area in the world hardest hit by climate change. If we don’t tackle climate change, 50% of the coffee growing areas won’t be able to grow coffee in 30 years. Starbucks wastes resources, water, milk, plastic. This model is not going to work for the company or the planet. They need to change. The first change is to sign a union contract! A just transition to a green economy can only happen with unions at the center of it!”

Remarks got the most applause when the focus was on union busting. However, the audience respectfully listened and gave some applause on the issue of climate change as well.

Starbucks workers, Amazon workers, Homegrown workers, and others are injecting much needed youthful energy and militancy into the labor movement. They are raising issues that labor has been slow about addressing: LGBTQIA rights, sexism and misogyny, climate change, etc. They are helping to revive the most important weapon of labor, the strike weapon. The solidarity between traditional unions and the new wave of union organizing is beneficial to both.

The kind of solidarity shown at this rally needs to be extended widely in deeds as well as in words!

Steve Leigh is a member of the Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and the Revolutionary Socialist Network.

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