Boston Starbucks Workers United strikes against unfair labor practices

Boston

Striking members of Boston Starbucks Workers United made U.S. labor history this week, shutting down their store at 874 Commonwealth Ave. at Boston University for seven days, in protest of what SBWU calls a pattern of management’s new union-busting, racist and transphobic Unfair Labor Practices. 

July 19 protest. WW PHOTO: Steve Gillis

Only a month after voting to join Workers United, the workers walked out on July 18, setting up a picket line and command center at the store’s locked door, staffed 24/7 by the union workers and shifts of hundreds of labor and community supporters, stopping all deliveries and potential scabs. 

In a July 18 letter to management, union leaders reported that Starbucks instigated the strike “immediately after our store voted to unionize . . . [We] have been subjected to not only a slew of unfair labor practices on the local and national level (threats, overly restrictive policies, denials of benefits, changes in operations) but also a chaotic and hostile work environment.” The letter describes “illegal threats of discipline or termination,” arbitrary dress-coding, aggressive cuts to hours, extreme understaffing, weekly unilateral changes to work schedules and “offensive rhetoric with regard to race, gender and orientation” of workers and customers. 

Strikers on the picket line spoke most angrily about the manager taking down their LGBTQ+ rainbow flag, which now adorns the locked door.

The striking workers are calling for a more inclusive work environment free from unfair labor practices, where they are treated with dignity and respect by management, with livable schedules and wages paid by the super-profitable corporation. The workers are adamant about not returning to make coffee until their demands for respectful treatment in the workplace are met.

The brutal heat wave did not deter shifts of supporters from joining the picket line at two rallies July 19 and 24 called by the Greater Boston Labor Council. Chanting “What’s Disgusting? Union Busting! What’s Outrageous? Poverty Wages!” hundreds of union activists, baristas from regional Starbucks, socialist organizations, students from neighboring universities, local politicians and candidates have come to pledge their support. 

Boston School Bus Drivers, Steelworkers Local 8751; Painters Union, District Council 35; Teamsters Local 25; the Boston Teachers Union; Harvard dining hall workers, UNITE HERE Local 26; UAW graduate students and clerical workers; MIT Graduate Students Union; and the Brookline Educators Union have provided daily sound systems, food and water, entertainment and first aid supplies. The Greater Boston Labor Council brought a free ice cream truck to the “MegaPicket” on Sunday, July 24. 

Throughout the week there were performances out on the block, from live revolutionary music sung by Workers World member Kristen Turgeon to speeches given on the sound truck, to karaoke sing-alongs led by striking workers. These efforts helped build momentum and enthusiasm on the picket line as the strikers moved into their second week of the shutdown. 

Mobile teams led by SBWU local organizers made stops to the other Starbucks locations in the district to converse with their co-workers on shift and extend their solidarity and assistance, both at unionized and not yet unionized stores. 

As the corporation threatens to recruit scab workers and reopen the struck store, it is of utmost importance to urge local customers and baristas to not cross the picket line but rather to pledge to join the movement, defend the strikers and organize the staff at all locations. 

Updates on the strike are regularly posted to the Boston Starbucks Workers United twitter page (@BostonSBWU). Resources are shared on the SBWU website at sbworkersunited.com. These include a #NoContractNoCoffee pledge for allies, who can “take the lead from workers and respond to workers’ calls for action to further their campaign,” as well as a contact form for Starbucks partners who are ready to begin organizing at their own stores. 

The rallying message chanted from the picket line is a reminder to all that “The people united will never be defeated!”

Mairead Skehan Gillis

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Mairead Skehan Gillis

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