The rising tide of union organizing sweeping the country is being felt in Philadelphia, where the workers of four Starbucks locations are organizing themselves to have a voice in the workplace. They will become the first workers in Pennsylvania to participate in a nationwide effort to unionize Starbucks locations following the landmark victory of employees at two stores in Buffalo.
Starbucks workers at 9th and South St. and 20th and Callowhill St. expressed in a joint letter the total lack of respect from management. They noted workplace safety concerns, insufficient wages, and a collective demand to practice democracy in the workplace. Two more Starbucks locations, located at 20th and Market St. and 34th and Walnut St., stated similar concerns in their letters: lack of sufficient pay, miniscule COVID-19 protections, overwork of employees, and skeleton crews left to operate the whole store themselves.
Liberation News interviewed Tiernen, a worker at the 34th and Walnut St. Starbucks location.
“I don’t hate my job at all, but there’s no reason why our job should take a toll on our mental and physical health,” says Tiernen, explaining how in their workplace the employees are consistently understaffed, even to the point of breaking down and crying on the job due to stress and overwork. When talking about the union struggle, Tiernen stated that “while any of us are on the job, we spend a third of our lives working at what equates to localized dictatorships where we have no say about our pay, benefits, or hours while we’re compelled to work. Fighting for a union is the answer to the question of whether we want to spend a third of our lives just doing what we’re told and keeping our mouths shut, or having control over this third of our lives with a democratic voice to be heard.”
Since starting the union drive, Tiernen noted the high morale of their fellow coworkers, stating how the thought of unionizing received overwhelming support and brought the workers closer together as partners in the struggle. Although their store has not yet seen overt retaliation from management, the workers at the 34th St and Walnut Starbucks are highly motivated to achieve union status, ready to face whatever challenges head-on.
Each letter from the Philadelphia stores cited the victory of the Buffalo Starbucks union as an inspiration for this new generation of workers in the service industry fighting for dignity and democracy in the workplace. Their example showed all employees currently engaged in the union struggle how to fight for worker control in an industry with a long history of abuse and exploitation. With the fight for union recognition ahead of them, the Philadelphia workers, like those across the country, remain dedicated and determined to win.