Starbucks union wave

May 20, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

A unionization wave at Starbucks continues to percolate. As of April, workers at 28 stores have had their unions certified. Workers at about 200 other stores are still in the process of getting to a certification vote.

The #Memphis7, who were fired for organizing at their Memphis Starbucks store, stand in front of a mural memorializing the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike, which brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to support the workers in Memphis, where he was assassinated.

Company bosses have been filling union-curious stores with managers to watch workers’ every move and listen to their every word. At the same time, these managers purposely drag their feet when it comes to approving requests for shift changes or days off.

In Phoenix, Ariz., pro-union barista Tyler Gillette told Business Insider his hours were cut in half: “I’m at the point where this job is causing my mental health to be at such a low point… I wasn’t able to pay rent this month. I’m gonna be homeless because Starbucks is royally screwing me over.”


Laila Dalton, a former employee who was fired for her pro-union organizing, told Jacobin she was given a warning when she did not count the number of times she shook a tea, which apparently is supposed to be shaken exactly ten times. “Then they ended the day saying things like, ‘You better not do that again.’ It’s said in a somewhat joking way, but the truth is you can’t really tell.”

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is now filing a retaliation lawsuit to reinstate Dalton and two other Starbucks workers in Arizona. Seven employees fired from a store in Memphis, Tenn., have said they intend to file an NLRB complaint.

On April 29, some of these employees held a press conference in front of the penthouse of Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO who stepped down in 2018 for a Presidential run but was rehired last March. During his tenure, the company successfully beat down earlier efforts at unionization.


While holding a sign naming Schultz “union-buster-in-chief,” former Memphis barista Beto Sanchez spoke to Left Voice: “Of course people like Howard Schultz are not gonna want a union because they’re not underneath the conditions that need a union. Of course he’s never gonna have to deal with staffing. He’s never gonna have to deal with scheduling issues. He’s never gonna have to deal with working in an unsafe working environment.”

Starbucks bosses may or may not find successful tactics that will allow them to finally get ahead of the growth of this latest movement among their employees. However, the memory of working together to improve the conditions of work will not be easily forgotten.

—Buddy Bell

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