May 31 — Less than a month after their May 3 vote to unionize, workers at the Cleveland Circle Starbucks store and supporters shut down operations on Memorial Day and declared a strike because of safety violations.
This was a stinging rebuke to management, which the day before had ordered workers to stay on the job while dirty water poured from the ceiling onto their heads and food stations.
Overnight, Boston Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) issued a call to strike. As the sun came up, dozens of baristas representing the state’s 17 unionizing stores — and some from as far away as Connecticut — set up Boston’s historic first Starbucks strike line.
The Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC) put out a rapid response call for emergency strike solidarity. Representatives came from Darwin’s Café workers fighting for their first contract, SEIU health care workers, Local 26 UNITE HERE food service workers, Steelworkers school bus drivers and Boston Building Trades. These workers enthusiastically reinforced the line with solidarity resources like food, strike signs and sound equipment.
Barista Yaakov Horwath reported to assembled media and community members passing by: “We were told by our store manager to continue to work and take customers, while the ceiling above our drink hand-off area and the light fixtures above our espresso bar were leaking dirty water from the seriously broken HVAC/AC system.”
According to shift manager and union leader Willow Montana, workers had held an emergency meeting Monday afternoon after management refused to answer their questions about safety fixes and catastrophe pay. They decided to strike Tuesday morning to ensure worker and customer safety and enforce their demands for rightful pay.
Barista Seryna Graham took on the role of picket captain, leading chants of “Contract now!” and “Stop union busting,” keeping the strike line 100% “Union Strong” for six hours under the blazing sun.
As of this writing, Starbucks management has neither fixed the dangerous leak nor agreed to pay the workers for their lost time. In this emergency situation, Darlene Lombos, GBLC executive secretary, issued a call online to that group’s 120 constituent unions to donate to the overnight-established “Starbucks Organizing Fund” at tinyurl.com/mrytvc5d.
SBWU has won five Boston-area bargaining units in mostly unanimous National Labor Relation Board votes. An additional 13 Massachusetts stores and a growing number of shops throughout the region are organized and waiting to vote in NLRB elections. Follow developments @BostonSBWU on Twitter.
Gillis is a member of the Executive Board, United Steelworkers Local 8751, Boston School Bus Drivers.