Originally published in Socialist Resurgence.
Workers at three Starbucks locations in Buffalo, N.Y. have won close union votes. On March 9, Starbucks Workers United posted on Twitter, “Walden & Anderson, the store that originally filed for their union election 6 months ago to the day and the store that corporate closed down to turn into a training center, just WON their union. THIS is what solidarity and strength looks like.”
In a follow-up tweet after the third successful vote, the union wrote, “Depew wins their union 15-12, overcoming intense union-busting and psychological warfare. The partners proved that solidarity triumphs over greed and evil. #6thUnionStarbucks”
Six stores across the country have unionized, and more than 100 Starbucks locations in 25 states have filed for a union election. Starbucks Workers United (SB Workers United), an affiliate of SEIU, has swept across the country in a dynamic effort to organize workers, including in states with “right-to-work” laws. The organizing drive is capturing the imagination of workers across the country.
In January, workers at the newly unionized shop in Buffalo walked off the job, demanding better protections against COVID as well as addressing staffing shortages. SB Workers United said, “The company has again shown that they continue to put profits above people.”
The movement has not come easy or without consequences. These brave workers have taken bold chances, risking their jobs in the process. Daniel Rojas, a leader in the organizing effort at the Starbucks on the corner of Sheridan and Bailey Street in Amherst, N.Y., was one of the only queer & POC workers at Sheridan & Bailey. He was terminated at the end of their shift on Friday for violating time and attendance policies that are selectively enforced. Readers can contribute to Danny’s fundraiser by clicking here. His example helped light the spark for a movement across the country.
In Memphis, Tenn., seven workers were similarly fired for their participation in the union drive at Starbucks. The company arbitrarily dismissed the “Memphis 7” workers for violating a policy of conducting unauthorized media interviews in the store. In an interview with News Channel 3 in Memphis, Nabretta Hardin, one of the Memphis 7, challenged that policy and the unjust discipline. “They fired us to shut us down because we’ve gotten too loud for them,” Hardin said. “We’re not saying that we didn’t do those things. We’re saying it’s unjust to fire us over these things when everybody does them in every store across the country.”
On Feb. 15, solidarity rallies were organized in several states for the Memphis 7, including in Seattle at the Starbucks corporate headquarters. On March 9, the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, led a march from the Benjamin L. Hooks Library in Memphis to the Starbucks café on the corner of Poplar and Highland for a press conference. Protesters chanted, “Which side are you on? I’m on the union side!” and “United we stand—Starbucks will fall!” Some signs read, “Honk for higher wages!” and a number of cars responded with honks in support. One worker from the unionized stores in Buffalo joined the Memphis action to show solidarity.
The organizing drive at Starbucks is a clear way forward to end the trend of workers in the service industry resigning from one job with low pay and insufficient benefits only to be rehired in a similar place. The New York Times wrote in November 2021, “More than 4.4 million workers quit their jobs voluntarily in September, the Labor Department said Friday. That was up from 4.3 million in August and was the most in the two decades the government has been keeping track. Nearly a million quit their jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry alone, reflecting the steep competition for workers there as businesses recover from last year’s pandemic-induced shutdowns.”
The economic sectors that are hardest hit by the wave of resignations are food service, retail, and health care. The majority of those leaving their jobs are women, who are quitting at twice the rate of men. The pandemic has forced women back into the home due to the closing of schools. As The Guardian pointed out (Nov. 19, 2021), “The pandemic made women’s exit from the labor force rapid and highly visible. But the loss of female workers is nothing new. Women’s workforce participation rate has been declining steadily since the 2008 financial crisis.” Therefore, the demand for 24/7 child care should remain a core part of our demands for women’s liberation.
It’s no surprise then that we are witnessing a growing urgency among a layer of rank-and-file workers at Starbucks eager to build class-struggle organizations. They are actively reaching out to SB Workers United with the conclusion that unions are necessary to improve their lives. All eyes are on these unnamed workers clocking in and out every day who are bursting with energy and enthusiasm for struggle. Victory to the workers fighting corporate greed at Starbucks!