Of all the workshops I attended at the Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh, the one that stays with me is the workshop entitled: “Starbucks Workers United, Young Workers, and the Future of the Labor Movement.”
I went into the standing-room-only session with an open heart and an open mind — what I like to call radical hospitality, radical hope, and radical love. As a 30-year labor organizer in higher education — not to mention peace, environment, and healthcare justice — I’ve learned to absorb my politics (the negotiation of power and control) politically, not personally.
With that said, I was truly struck at the level of poise and purpose and discipline among and between the three panelists (all in their twenties) and moderator — whose names I leave out for obvious reasons — as they told their stories of workplace abuse: lack of control over schedules, safety violations, physical and mental fatigue, poor pay and benefits, managerial threats regarding union activities, and, in the case of one Starbucks barista, termination.
Despite all of the crap that they’ve had to endure, there was not a hint of bitterness. Just the opposite, they care so much for the “idea” of Starbucks — quality product and service — that they risk everything to achieve workplace democracy via unionization, in order to make Starbucks the company it brands itself to be!
The audience response was electric! Appalled as attendees were to hear story after story of not only direct managerial mistreatment, but customer verbal (racist, sexist, body-shaming comments), physical (touching, mostly) assaults and mental health outbursts (screaming and tantrums) that are dismissed by management, everyone wanted to know how they could help.
Before getting to the topic of solidarity support, however, here are a few facts I learned. According to statista.com, there are 8,947 company-operated Starbucks stores, and another 6,497 licensed outlets in the United States. There are another 15,000+ overseas, in 80 countries. Of the 8,947 company-run stores, 222 are now unionized, with the number growing steadily, even virally, through expanded organizing campaigns, from city to city, town to town.
Of the 222 unionized work forces, Starbucks management has seen fit to begin negotiating with exactly three (3) of those store-based unions. CEO Howard Schultz, and associates postures as a “progressive” but promotes, permits and enables the toxic work conditions that have resulted in the current rise of workers demanding unions and fair contracts. The union organizers, once again, are driven by the desire to make Starbucks live up to its public relations branding campaign.
So how can you help? Go to crm.broadstripes.com, endorse the “No Contract! No Coffee! campaign. Pledge to act in solidarity with Starbucks Workers United. Also use the hashtag in your social media communications: #NOCONTRACTNOCOFFEE These courageous organizers are in the cross-hairs of management. By standing together, in solidarity, we all win!