Militant Journalism

Milestone union victories in Starbucks’ hometown

Starbucks workers celebrated their 100th unionized store after two successive landslide victories in the company’s hometown of Seattle. On May 27, workers at Seattle’s Union Station store voted 6-3 to unionize as part of Starbucks Workers United, immediately followed by a unanimous 12-0 victory at the Eastlake store. In the following weeks, an additional 46 Starbucks locations across the country voted to unionize, bringing the total number to 146 stores across 30 states in less than 7 months of organizing.

Predictably, the company has responded to this historic upsurge with an aggressive anti-union campaign and an overwhelming barrage of illegal union busting tactics, giving benefits to stores that have not unionized, and illegally firing over 20 workers attempting to organize. Meanwhile, the company has spent $20 billion on stock buybacks and dividends, and provided a $20 million compensation package to interim CEO Howard Schultz, who, after a failed 2020 presidential campaign, generously came out of retirement in April to bring his lifetime of union busting experience back to the company.

On the week of April 15, four Seattle locations staged a walkout or strike, including the now-unionized Union Station store where workers walked out in response to management dismissing a barista for wearing a union logo on their uniform. That week, workers at downtown Seattle’s 5th & Pike location went on strike for three consecutive days to protest numerous unfair labor practices. The company brought in salaried managers from around the area to keep the store open during the strike.

One barista who wished to remain anonymous described the intentional short staffing employed by managers to squeeze down labor costs and increase the rate of exploitation for each worker: “There’s been a ton of just two-person plays, which means there’s just two people on the floor at all times holding everything down, when there are long lines out the door and we’re expected to do all of this work with just two people.”

“I have been emotionally and physically exhausted every day after getting off work,” barista Jo Cormier told Liberation News, “I joined this company loving the fact that they call their workers ‘partners’. I thought that I was going to be going into a partnership with Starbucks.”

On April 23, Starbucks workers and their supporters rallied and marched in Seattle to demand reinstatement for workers who had been illegally fired in union busting attempts by the company. The rally featured speeches from fired Starbucks workers from five states across the country to tell their stories to the Seattle workers. These workers included Beto Sanchez and LaKota McGlawn, members of the “Memphis 7,” a group of workers who were fired for organizing in February.

Alyssa Sanchez, who was fired from a Starbucks store in Phoenix, also spoke at the rally. “We sell our lives, we sell our bodies, we sell our time to this company. So why not earn a living wage for the life that we give into the company?” she said in her speech, “There are millions of other people going through the same thing in other industries. This is the start of a new era.”

The march proceeded from Cal Anderson Park in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and ended at Westlake Park downtown. Participants numbering in the hundreds, including dozens of progressive organizations active in the labor movement, marched through Seattle’s streets with chants including “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” and “What’s outrageous? Poverty wages!”

The outpouring of support from progressive members of the community in the city where the now sprawling multinational corporation was first founded in 1971 is likely related in no small part to the rich history that unfolded here during the U.S. labor movement of the early 20th century. In 1916, a longshoreman’s strike lasted for four months. In 1919, when Seattle was used as a port to send military personnel and materials to crush the nascent Russian Revolution during the so-called Russian Civil War, Seattle workers organized a 100,000 person General Strike. For the six days the strike lasted, strikers ran the city, providing food services and child care, protecting the streets, and offering political education programs for the community. Seattle was also the location of the historic WTO protests in 1999, and played a very newsworthy role during the 2020 uprising against racist police violence.

The two latest unionization victories in Seattle bring the city’s total number of unionized Starbucks stores to 7, including the company’s flagship roastery on April 21, with an additional 3 stores currently waiting for an election. This astonishing momentum is only part of a much larger historic wave of unionizing efforts across the whole country, which in the first half of the 2022 fiscal year has seen a 57% increase in union petition filings. The number of filings is now higher than at any point in the past 10 years. At 68%, labor unions now have their highest public approval rating since 1965, according to Gallup.

This historic upsurge is proof of the principle that when workers’ rights are under attack by the cruel ravages of capitalist exploitation, workers stand up and fight back!

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