Anniversary of first union win:Protests target Starbucks

December 9 marked the one-year anniversary of the historic victory at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, when the workers voted to be represented by Starbucks Workers United (SBWU). During a rally at Niagara Square, 100+ Starbucks workers and supporters marked their year of struggle, braving the winter cold while listening to union speakers.

In the city where it all started, Starbucks workers say ‘Buffalo is a union town!’ Dec. 9

Solidarity came from the Buffalo Central Labor Council, various teachers unions, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and others. Starbucks workers linked the fight against gender oppression and racism to the fight for labor rights and asked union supporters not to buy Starbucks gift cards this holiday season.

“I know everyone today will be celebrating, as we should be,” SBWU organizer Arjae Red told the crowd. “We are up against the largest coffee corporation in the world; and in just one year, we managed to organize 270 stores representing more than 7,000 workers. We’ve seen the momentum of our movement explode beyond Buffalo and inspire workers across the country and even outside Starbucks, to other companies like Amazon, REI, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Apple and many, many more. This was viewed as impossible just a year ago, but we’ve proven everyone wrong who said we couldn’t do it. For this we should be proud.

“But if I’m being honest, I am angry today, and I think many other workers here today are too. Because we are one year in, and we don’t have a contract. We are facing mass firings and write-ups. We are being purged from our workplaces, and we have seen no justice. We did achieve the rehiring of the Memphis 7 and a handful of other workers, which would not have been possible without our fight. . . . But justice is not just undoing a few wrongful firings; justice is reinstating all fired workers. Justice is an end to new firings. Justice is a contract where we have our basic needs met. Justice is having a say in how our workplace is run. Because we, the workers, built this company, not Howard Schultz.

“We have filed over 900 Unfair Labor Practice charges. Are we going to wait till we file 900 more? It’s up to us! It’s up to our class — not the middle class — the working class. But Starbucks workers are only one small part of our class, and we need the rest of you onboard; and you need us too, if we all want to win. We can win, our class has won before. And companies like Starbucks know this, or they wouldn’t spend untold millions trying to break us.”

About 300 people showed up in City Hall Park for New York City’s day of action — a couple of miles from the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, where a strike had been prompted by a bedbug infestation, mold in the ice and management’s failure to meet.

New York City, Dec. 9

Having won health and safety concessions from the Roastery bosses — as well as a date for contract negotiations, a rarity for Starbucks unions — the Starbucks workers returned to work Dec. 12, after being out for seven weeks.

Starbucks union members active in the struggle were given a voice on a podium surrounded by pro-union signs and cameras. Madalyn Stauffer, a New York City barista, expressed that they “have witnessed firsthand management’s attempts to union bust, since our vote back in April. What started out as minor inconveniences quickly became major issues, because of lack of communication and mutual respect between managers and baristas.”

Ezra Scollo, a trans representative of New York State Poor People’s Campaign, emphasized the importance of the prominent queer voices in the Starbucks workers struggle and the labor force as a whole. “Starbucks and many other corporations have pink-washed themselves, especially in June,” Scollo said. “But it is now December, and a rainbow logo isn’t going to pay our rent!”

In an interview after the rally, Ley Kido spoke on the importance of community. As the head organizer of the Roastery strike, she sang the praises of the employees who walked out, picketed and stood alongside her when things looked bleak. And although the New York City work stoppage was a “minority strike” — not all workers went out — the ones who did were able to disrupt their environment enough to meet with management and make their demands known.

Attendees included members of Amazon Labor Union, Service Employees Union (SEIU), Workers Assembly Against Racism, Workers World Party (WWP), Young Communist League, Athena and the New York City Central Labor Council.

Protests in 10 target cities

In Atlanta, although it poured rain and kept raining through the entire rally, supporters turned out. In addition to Atlanta Starbucks workers, people came from Alabama and Florida. An international labor conference was taking place in Atlanta; unionists from Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium attended the rally.

Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, the Painters union, American Federation of Teachers, SEIU, Teamsters, United Steelworkers, WWP, Democratic Socialists of America, Party of Socialism and Liberation, Communist Party USA and the radio station WRFG were represented.

The rally was held at the Peace Amphitheater of Ebenezer Baptist Church, across from the crypt of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Organizers  emphasized the links between the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-racist struggle; the growing multinational, multigendered workers movement; and the need for a mass solidarity movement..

About 100 Starbucks workers and supporters rallied in Seattle to protest the closure of the Broadway and Denny Starbucks store, the first store to unionize in
the city. The rally, held a block away from the store, was called to affirm the union’s determination to grow their organization in defiance of store closures, firings, cuts in hours and Starbucks’ refusal to bargain. It was announced that five new stores had just voted in the union.

A speaker from the Martin Luther King Central Labor Council acknowledged the support of many unions present, including the UAW, SEIU Locals 1199 and 775, Washington Education Association, Seattle Education Association and others. The MLK Labor Council spokesperson congratulated the Starbucks workers for the one-year anniversary of their revival of the labor movement.

Mari, an SBWU organizer, talked about the benefits Starbucks workers had won locally, including 10% pay raises and severance pay, despite the company’s
stonewalling in negotiations.

Three speakers from the LGBTQ+ community affirmed their support going forward, as two union Starbucks stores had been closed in the LGBTQ+ neighborhood of Capitol Hill. Shellea Allen, former national president of Pride at Work, talked about her partner’s growth through the union struggle at the nearby Starbucks Roastery. And as in Buffalo, a speaker asked people not to buy Starbucks gift cards for the holidays.

Demonstrations also targeted Starbucks in Boston; Arlington, Virginia; Pittsburgh; Chicago; San Antonio; and Los Angeles.

The solidarity visible Dec. 9, with Starbucks workers joined by unions, elected officials and socialist groups, showed very quickly that this worker struggle was bigger than Starbucks.

This was a shout from workers everywhere to remind the capitalists at the top that their multibillion-dollar corporations can’t run without employees — and a demand that worker contributions and worker power be recognized.

Arjae Red, Dianne Mathiowetz, Jim McMahan, Janisse Miles and Tony Murphy contributed to this article.

Martha Grevatt

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Martha Grevatt

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