The 1085 West 5th Avenue Starbucks location has become the fourth store in Columbus to file for unionization in the nationwide Starbucks Workers United organizing campaign. Citing unfair working conditions, being overworked and understaffed, unfair scheduling, and the removal of their pride flag, workers say they are organizing for a seat at the bargaining table and for workplace democracy. Workers are fighting to become the tenth unionized Starbucks in Ohio, among the hundreds of stores across the country.
Starbucks workers have become one of the faces of the growing labor wave sweeping the United States currently. Beginning in New York state in 2021, the campaign now boasts over 270 unionized locations with over 7,000 workers. The Starbucks corporation has since launched a brutal anti-union campaign against workers, registering more than 1,200 labor law violations and over 60 National Labor Relations Board complaints. Despite the pressures placed on them, workers have continued to fight for their rights and for a better workplace. Following on the heels of the third Columbus location’s victory, workers at West 5th filed on Jan. 28.
In their letter to CEO and board member Howard Schultz, the West 5th Ave Partners, as Starbucks calls their employees, write that they “come together across a diverse workforce, of parents and students, cis and trans people, of different abilities and ethnicities, to advance [their] need of having a seat at the table in order to preserve and improve [their] store.” West 5th workers explain that as those who run the floor and make the company profit, they demand a say in their working conditions.
Akeylah, a trainer who supports the union, said that she hopes “talks around unionizing elicit more transparency about pay, a greater diligence to physical store conditions, a better system for distributing partners who get displaced while waiting for their store to be remodeled, more support for partners working during the slow holiday season, more robust and comprehensive health care, and incentives for shift supervisors and baristas who work hard to meet store metrics but rarely see the pay off.” Other demands stated in their letter include consistency and fairness in their scheduling, employee-led meetings, higher wages reflective of the growing cost of living in a developing city like Columbus, open access to store information such as profit and labor budgeting, job security and stability, and the right to collectively bargain, among others.
One partner, named Julia, elaborated that the process of unionizing would bring their store together in improving the environment, and understanding each other more than ever before. She explained, “As a partner that has been at West 5th for over a year now, many of my coworkers are more than just partners to me, they are my friends. These people are important to me, and together, we are important to our community. I will stand together with them to ensure that we all receive safe working conditions and fair wages that support the many different lifestyles that we lead.” Julia, alongside 16 other partners, signed the letter addressed to Howard Schultz.
As the latest labor organizing wave has swept the country, these partners see themselves as part of the greater movement. Alongside the three other locations over the past year, Columbus has seen other workers assert their strength, such as the victory of the Columbus City School teachers strike.
Krystal, another Partner at West 5th who supports unionizing, noted that “a whole generation of young people is realizing that we are stronger together and have to make a stand to improve this world we share. One part of that is recognizing and building workers up both at an individual workplace level as well as a societal one.”
Organizing under the Chicago-Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United, workers at West 5th are awaiting an election date that they hope will secure their victory and assert their strength as those workers who make the world run. As they finish in their letter to Howard Schultz, “if Starbucks wants to call us Partners, then we should be treated like those in a true partnership: as equals.”