Starbucks Workers United has stated its goal loud and clear: “We want to be able to be our best selves, and we cannot reach our full potential if we are understaffed, overextended, exhausted, and burned-out.” Workers at Starbucks across the country are attempting to protect their basic human rights by unionizing. And it seemed for a minute that attempts to organize were working. In December 2021, a Buffalo Starbucks successfully unionized—as of this week more than 80 locations in the country have plans to unionize, including Seattle’s flagship Starbucks Reserve Roastery, Eater Seattle reports.
But just last week Starbucks fired seven employees involved in Memphis’s unionizing efforts, reports CNN, sparking speculation that the company is taking its union busting to the next level. Starbucks representatives denied that the employee’s organizing had anything to do with their termination (all seven apparently committed “serious security violations”), but then days later quietly published a decidedly anti-union site for current employees titled “We Are One Starbucks.”
Caution: clicking through will most certainly cause an involuntary “go fuck yourself, Starbucks.”
The whole page is fairly textbook union-busting lingo, focusing on how long the process of bargaining a contract takes, the “burden” of union fees, and the threat of union involvement making things like picking up or swapping shifts more difficult.
“We do not believe unions are necessary at Starbucks because we know that the real issues are solved through our direct partnership with one another,” reads the site. Or essentially, “This is between you and me, we don’t need to get anyone else involved! That’ll just complicate things!”
While that might be acceptable advice for an issue among friends (and even then I might add that involving a therapist could only help!), this does not in the least bit apply when the “direct partnership” is between minimum-wage workers and highly paid CEOs, many of whom have likely never worked a milk steamer during peak coffee hours in their lives.
Starbucks loves to use the word “partner,” implying a closeness and accessibility among all levels of employees. The site says that Workers United is not a “group of partners for partners,” citing the fact that it’s one of the biggest unions in the country as a bad thing, almost entirely forgetting, it seems, that Starbucks is one of the biggest corporations in not just the country but the world.
A union’s size equates to the strength of support it can give its workers—more people fighting for better working conditions is better than less. A corporation’s size more often than not equates to how much money is coming in for the company, not necessarily the amount of money going to the employees—er, gosh, I’m so sorry, the partners.
“What can I do if another partner won’t leave me alone about supporting a union?” the site’s FAQ section asks, vilifying the organizers fighting for better conditions.
“Unions use dues to pay for their office overhead, staff salaries and other expenses,” reads the answer to a question about the cost of joining a union, blissfully unaware that Starbucks employees just might be in support of helping other laborers earn a living wage.
“Without a union,” Starbucks says, “you can speak for yourself, directly to your leaders and support partners.” Any guarantees that someone will listen or act when you speak for yourself, however, are absent from the text.
There’s one statement at one.starbucks.com that we can get behind: “Get the facts, do your research. The better informed we are, the better decisions we all make.”
Well, we did some research, here are some facts we found!
First things first: what exactly is a union? Unions are organized groups of workers who make decisions (and ultimately, demands) to improve working conditions on all levels. The core of union philosophy is that any company is nothing without its workers—and as such the workers should be the ones calling the shots when it comes to compensation, benefits, worker protections, and more, working as a democracy to vote on issues that will apply to everyone in the unit equally.
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of a union contract is higher wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-union workers made just 83 cents for every dollar that union workers made in 2021. Workers at Oregon-based fast food joint Burgerville ratified a union contract in December that increased all workers’ starting wage from $14.25 an hour to $15 an hour (for context, the minimum wage in Oregon is $12.75). Other forms of financial compensation bargained by the Burgerville crew, one of the closest examples at the moment for what Starbucks unions might include in contracts, is the introduction of a tipping policy, paid vacation, and paid parental leave.
The pandemic ignited the unionizing flame in many food service jobs due to inconsistent (and sometimes nonexistent) protocols surrounding COVID safety. The first Starbucks location to unionize in Buffalo, New York, had employees walkout in January to protest working conditions amid an Omicron spike, The New York Times reported. Thanks to union protections, none of those employees could legally be fired. Even if protocols that are unforeseen are left out of an initial contract (pre-pandemic, who could have bargained for protected COVID rights?), the union can still advocate for workers’ protections without fear of retaliation.
One of the biggest misconceptions of unions is that they are automatically the enemy of the workplace—if baristas are pushing to unionize, then they must hate Starbucks. In fact, the opposite is often true. Many leaders in organizing do so because they don’t want to leave their job, their coworkers, their bosses, and their duties for other work. With unions in place, restaurants may begin to see the labor shortages dwindling and customer support rising. The best thing Starbucks can do to thrive is hand over the reins to the workers and delete that stupid anti-union website.
Oh, and serve pistachio lattes all year long, please. Can’t wait to grab one once my local Starbucks is unionized.