Lattes and Labor Rights: Starbucks Workers Are Starting To Unionize

Photo by Asael Peña on Unsplash

By current Starbucks partner and Blue Future contributor, Abigail Carey.

Young people are bringing the union fight of the 1900s to 2021: one Starbucks cafe at a time.

Baristas working at Starbucks cafes in Buffalo, NY are starting their own union called Starbucks Workers United to give employees fair protections and improved working conditions.

Starbucks is well-known for its generous benefits such as 100% college tuition to Arizona State University’s online program and progressive values like welcoming LGBTQ+ members. But employees, known as partners, are now challenging that image, and they are demanding that partners have power in their partnership with the company.

The Starbucks Workers United Organizing Committee wrote in their letter to CEO Kevin Johnson:

“Starbucks’ mission is improving communities one coffee at a time. Respecting partners’ rights to organize will help us help the company accomplish this mission, by improving our lives and raising the standard across the industry.”

Starbucks has long been known as a “college job” where 20-somethings can work flexible hours while taking classes. But these 20-somethings aren’t going to take mistreatment and miserable working conditions anymore, just like everyone else in the service industry. The current minimum wage for the company is $12/hour, hardly a wage on which any college student can live. Starbucks is not planning to increase to $15/hour for another two-to-three years.

Partners at the Buffalo locations have shared horror stories of workplace endangerment and neglect for equipment. One partner said that a beehive that caused stings was not removed for months, no matter how many times they called for an exterminator. Another shared a water faucet exploding like a geyser on the @SBWorkersUnited twitter account.

Starbucks corporate is engaging in blatant union-busting tactics. Starbucks has hired law firm, Littler Mendelson, famous for their union-busting tactics to handle communications on corporate views of unions. The Littler website describes their work as helping to “guide companies in developing and initiating strategies that lawfully avoid unions or effectively respond to unconventional corporate campaigns.”

Corporate employees, including Vice President of North America Rossann Williams, have visited stores with employees trying to unionize to pull partners aside and intimidate them. Vice President Williams was seen sweeping the floors of one store as a sign of solidarity. According to partners, there have been anti-union meetings and one shared an image placed in the employee area discouraging partners to sign a union card.

These anti-union tactics are not only illegal, but they go against Starbucks values of acting with courage to challenge the status quo, find new ways to grow our company and each other, in addition to being performance driven through the lens of humanity.

On October 14, Starbucks closed two Buffalo stores for renovations, a way to separate and decrease the momentum of the union movement. Little do they know, nothing can stop young people from organizing. Not a pandemic, and not a store closure. The future of the service industry unionizing lies in the hands of baristas and they will not stop until all Starbucks partners have a seat at the table.

About Abigail: I am a student at Arizona State University online majoring in Mass Communications and Media Studies with a minor in Political Science. I’m passionate about reproductive rights, labor organizing, and giving young people a say in their future. When I’m not fighting to protect my rights, I can be found cuddling with my cat Emmie or playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends.

Blue Future is building a diverse youth movement that will inspire, mobilize and invest in young people to organize for a brighter tomorrow.