Hundreds of labor union members, socialists, and other community members joined Starbucks workers and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant at a rally and march in Capitol Hill to show support for unionization efforts at Starbucks and Amazon on April 23.
Speakers railed against firings and coercive tactics used by Starbucks against baristas organizing at their stores.
Billie Adeosun, a barista at the Cooper Village Starbucks in Olympia, said at the rally that workers were taking matters into their own hands and demanding wages and benefits that align with the label of “essential workers.”
“You guys inspire me because we are out here and we said, ‘You know what, we are essential workers, and we’re going to start acting like it, and they are gonna pay us what we deserve,’” Adeosun said.
According to Katie McCoy, a worker at the Starbucks in Marysville, working conditions at the store are unacceptable.
“We worked through our second rat infestation in a year because we weren’t given enough labor from corporate to schedule enough people to keep up with the store’s regular cleaning tasks,” McCoy said at the rally.
“I would work doubles, miss breaks and come home covered in rashes from working in the store’s conditions,” she said.
McCoy said that workers will no longer tolerate mistreatment from capitalists.
“We are tired of being overworked and underpaid, and we will no longer allow big billionaires and capitalists like Howard Schultz and Kevin Johnson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to continue to silence and exploit workers while hoarding wealth,” McCoy said.
Both Adeosun and McCoy helped lead strikes at their stores, galvanizing support for better working conditions.
Momentum seems to be on the workers’ side. On April 21, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — the federal agency which administers union elections — announced that Starbucks workers at the Seattle Reserve Roastery won their union election at the flagship store by a margin of 38 to 27. This makes the Roastery one of two Starbucks locations in Seattle which have successfully unionized.
According to the labor news site More Perfect Union, more than 220 stores across the country have filed to unionize since last August, with 33 out of 36 winning their elections so far. Nine stores have filed to unionize in Seattle and 14 have filed across Washington.
Schultz, the interim Starbucks CEO, seems to be increasingly concerned by the growing unionization effort. Earlier this month, he said that the company was “being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionization.” In a recently leaked call with fellow Starbucks managers, Schultz called unionizing workers a “new outside force that’s trying desperately to disrupt our company.”
Rossann Williams, a Starbucks executive vice president, called on managers to focus on making sure workers voted against unionizing.
On April 15, baristas at two locations in downtown and Eastlake went on a three-day strike to protest what they see as retaliatory tactics by management. Workers at a Starbucks location in the International District went on a one-day strike a couple days later.
Sarah, a Starbucks worker who participated in the strikes, said in a video posted to Twitter that they were protesting unfair labor practices by the company. Sarah described being disciplined by managers due to helping organize a union at the Fifth and Pike store.
“And now my managers are responding by writing me up for things I’ve never been written up for in eight years,” Sarah said. “I was just written up on Thursday for swearing in the backroom, which is something everybody does. My manager who wrote me up for it does it.”
Starbucks has been accused of retaliating against dozens of workers who have helped lead unionizing efforts at stores throughout the United States. Since the beginning of 2022, the NLRB has received 104 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices, including wrongful termination.
On April 22, the NLRB sued Starbucks for some of these alleged unfair labor practices, claiming that the corporation illegally fired workers who were leading unionizing efforts.
Some of these workers flew into Seattle to support the rally. Laila Dalton, a barista based in Phoenix, Arizona, was fired on April 4 for recording conversations with management who had allegedly harassed and reprimanded her. Arizona is a one-party recording state, meaning that it is legal to record conversations even if you don’t get the other party’s permission.
In an interview, Dalton said that she believes that all workers deserve respect and a living wage.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in,” she said. “We all deserve to be treated as a person. We all deserve to have a livable wage. I just want everyone to not be scared of corporate and not to think that they don’t have a say.”
Alydia Clapool, a Kansas City Starbucks barista who was fired on April 14, said “it’s really important for us to have a voice and a seat at the table in our workplace.”
Sawant donated $5,000 from her salary in March to the Starbucks worker relief fund, helping pay for their travel across the country to support other unionizing Starbucks workers. At the rally, she called for an end to accommodating “business unionism” and that workers should instead take a more confrontational approach with bosses.
“Class struggle unionism recognizes that worker power does not reside in the bargaining room, but outside it, in the workplaces and on the streets,” Sawant said.
Despite the union busting efforts, Starbucks workers appear as determined as ever.
“I’m out here to show the rest of the people that I got fired but I will be back and I’m not scared,” Dalton said.
Read more of the Apr. 27-May 3, 2022 issue.