Militant Journalism

Brookline, Mass. Starbucks workers on first indefinite strike to fight retaliation and discrimination

The Starbucks location at 874 Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline, Massachusetts remains closed today as workers enter their sixth day of strike against unfair labor practices.  

The location unanimously voted to join Starbucks Workers United on June 3. Retaliation was immediate. New interim manager Tomi Chorlian subjected workers to retaliatory scheduling and staffing changes as well as discriminatory behavior. In response, the workers staged a sick out that closed the store on July 17, and the next day they began an indefinite strike — the first of its kind for SBWU.

The union is demanding the removal of Chorlian from the store, a guarantee that workers will be scheduled the number of hours that they request, properly staffed shifts and regular reviews of labor needs between management and staff. 

Retaliation and discrimination

“We are going on strike to protest the mistreatment from both our current manager and the Starbucks corporation as they have broken their promise to bargain with good faith by letting Ms. Chorlian manage our store,” Barista Adam Ryan said. “Tomi Chorlian has created a hostile work environment.”

Shift Lead Spencer Costigan told Liberation News that Chorlian has been “consistently racist, homophobic and transphobic, making insensitive remarks about people’s appearances, misgendering people, and removing gay pride flags on display at our majority-LGBTQIA+ store. She has no respect for all of us who make sure the store functions, and we are fed up.”

Spencer Costigan leads chants on the picket line, July 18. Liberation Photo.

Barista Taylor Dickerson’s hours were cut almost in half. Dickerson told Liberation News about the effects of understaffing: “We’ve had to slack on our duties. We can’t clean as much as we like. We’re slower on having our drinks ready for people. Shift managers are not able to take meals. And a lot of the baristas are skipping breaks just to get stuff done that would normally be really easy.” 

Strike stays strong with community support

The strike officially began July 18 with a picket from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Community members, unions, and passersby came through to support with water and food on the picket line. 

Teamsters refused to cross the picket line on Tuesday, halting their deliveries. That afternoon, SBWU held a rally with speakers from the Greater Boston Labor Council, Harvard Grad Student Union, Teamsters Local 122, United Auto Workers, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Brookline Teachers Union, Service Employees International Union 509, Unite Here Local 26 and other unions in attendance.

Starbucks workers share a cake “celebrating” CEO Howard Shultz’ birthday, July 19. Liberation Photo.

Workers shared a cake in mock honor of billionaire CEO Howard Schultz’s birthday.

Costigan told the crowd, “Today starts with expelling a manager who has disrespected us. But it can’t end here. We deserve to live without fear of how we will pay our rent, without the threat of healthcare being stripped from us at any moment, without bigotry and hostility from management in our face every hour of our shift. We deserve respect and we demand it. If they won’t give it to us, we won’t give them our labor!”

SBWU fights union busting across the country

This strike is only the latest example of unionized Starbucks workers standing up to retaliation. In Massachusetts, Starbucks has been targeting organizing workers since the first stores unionized in February of 2022

Dozens of workers and union organizers have been fired in Tennessee, Colorado, New York, and Arizona, while hundreds more have been subjected to intimidation, store closures, hour cuts, schedule changes and hostile management. 

Starbucks has refused to hear workers at the bargaining table. SBWU continues to demand negotiations for a national contract. 

Kylah Clay, a core organizer in Boston, said “Of the 190+ unionized stores, approximately 25% have gone on strike. What makes this strike special is that it’s our first indefinite strike in the movement. This is a pivotal moment in our movement and Starbucks knows that a win from this strike would be detrimental to their union-busting campaign.”

Each attack on workers’ rights has been met with resilience by SBWU, who have filed over 200 complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and have struck in Boston, Atlanta, Augusta, Denver, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Seattle

Starbucks shatters its progressive brand

Most recently, Starbucks used the attacks on abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights to threaten denial of abortion and gender-affirming healthcare to workers who unionize.  

Costigan said “Since the beginning of the union movement at Starbucks stores around the country, they have proven more definitively than ever before just how little their progressive veneer really represents their morals.”

“As someone who identifies as both transgender and a part of the queer community, I want workers to know that by unionizing you are putting more power into the hands of the workers which allows us to fight back,” Ryan said. “By uniting together as a union we as workers are able to protect ourselves and do not have to rely on management to treat us with respect. Instead we are able to demand to be treated as a person!”

We encourage our readers to support the workers on strike at 874 Commonwealth Avenue by joining the picket line, or by donating to their strike fund. There will be a “mega picket” beginning 9 a.m. on Sunday July 24, followed by a rally at 10 a.m.

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