LaborMilitant Journalism

Fired Pittsburgh Starbucks workers fight back, spark strike

On July 12, two supervisors at the downtown Pittsburgh Starbucks location in Market Square were fired for union organizing. In response, Starbucks Workers United partners held an impressive three-day demonstration across four Starbucks locations, which culminated in a strike on a fourth day at Market Square.

From July 13 to 16, Starbucks workers and friends were joined by union members from the USW, members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Pittsburgh Democratic Socialists of America and many supportive community members. Energy and morale was kept high by musicians from the Pittsburgh Labor Choir, who led chants such as, “Union busting is disgusting!”

The four day campaign protested the illegal and retaliatory firing of Tori Tambellini and Kim Manfre, two employees who are active members of the union organizing committee. Neither of them had ever worked with the disciplinary manager before.

Both Tambellini and Manfre were explicitly denied their Weingarten Rights, a federal protection for union workers to have union representation during disciplinary discussions. This has been one of many anti-worker attacks by the corporate chain in their massive union-busting effort nationwide. Across the country, Workers United has filed over 200 unfair labor practices against Starbucks with the National Labor Relations Board.

Kim Manfre told Liberation News about some of the ongoing union-busting practices, such as the creation of new positions that didn’t exist prior to the union: “The company made a new position called ‘support manager.’ They’re almost like an assistant district manager, except they’re not. Whichever store manager union busts the most harshly gets promoted to this new role, ‘support manager.’ They follow the district manager and sniff for organizers. After our district started organizing more, our support manager came down to ‘provide support to unionized stores.'”

Tori Tambellini elaborated: “That support manager was one of the ones that fired me and Kim. There’s some things that don’t feel like union busting, but are illegal. They were soliciting grievances from employees after they petitioned for a union election. Despite all the hour cuts and the company claiming, We just can’t afford to give you guys more hours,‘ they scheduled everyone at the stores in the district for one hour of non-coverage time to watch an hour long Howard Schultz speech.” This is a common boss tactic where workers are required to listen to anti-union propaganda.

Tambellini continued, “We were then required to do a survey of things we like or don’t like about our stores. When we completed our petition, they started repairs and remodels in our stores. In the past it was never ‘in the budget,’ but once there was talk of a union, they brought in facilities managers and tried to fix things at our stores before our election.”

The Pittsburgh Starbucks workers stood up against these illegal anti-worker provocations, reminding the city of its militant union tradition. Since this illegal retaliation effort, other stores in the area decided to fight back. A store in Penn Hills launched a strike in response to union-busting practices and the firing of two unionized workers.

For all Starbucks efforts to impede workers rights to organize, there is no sign that the unionization wave is stopping in Pittsburgh. A ninth Pittsburgh Starbucks store, Southbound McKnight, announced their union drive the day after the Penn Hills strike.

“We see these Democrats on TV making all these promises, and nothing gets done. They’re all talk, and I think it’s really time for the working class to take everything into our own hands … That’s why I started this, that’s what keeps me going,” said Tambellini.

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