Interview: Starbucks Workers Are in the Fight of Their Lives for a Contract
Starbucks Workers United just marked the one-year anniversary of its first organizing committee meeting. In that time, the new union has won union elections at 225 stores, covering more than 6,000 workers. A third of those stores have gone on strike, and hundreds more locations are in the process of organizing.
The union is now asking supporters to sign its No Contract, No Coffee pledge and recruit 10 other people to do the same. Pledgers commit to join picket lines, sip-ins, and other actions.
Labor Notes spoke with Daisy Pitkin, the national field director for Starbucks Workers United, about the campaign and the pledge, how Starbucks workers are strategizing to take on the corporate coffee giant, and how you can help.
There are still dozens of stores waiting for their elections, and more stores filing for election every week. These thousands of newly unionized workers are in the fight of their lives for a contract.
The company is fighting dirtier and dirtier all the time, from closing stores to firing more than 80 union leaders across the country to now filing suit at the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the Board itself is committing fraud by colluding with the union. Their campaign is getting more and more vicious.
[Corporate’s] theory of the campaign, in my mind, is to crush the momentum. They are counting on us not being able to continue to build and organize. They're counting on the idea that there’s not going to be enough community solidarity to really stand up to their bullying, and that they’re going to be able to quash the campaign and wait it out and then decertify stores.
December 9 we’ll cross a year since the first stores voted for a union. The certification year ends at that point and the company can begin to run decert petitions. [Editors’ note: Under federal law, a union cannot be voted out, or “decertified,” within the first year of its having been certified. Often employers will stall on bargaining for a year so the decertification window opens, and covertly encourage workers to decertify the union at that point.] So we’re in the fight for our lives for a contract right now.
A NATIONAL VOICE
These workers have done a lot of work internally to build national structures so they are speaking powerfully in one voice to the company. There’s a national committee called the National Bargaining Committee, which is working hard to draft a set of bargaining demands. They’re going to bring it back down to the base [of workers] for revisions and then we’re going to introduce that same proposal at every store where we can get this company to bargain.
We’re going to ask the company to meet with the national bargaining committee. I’m assuming they’re going to say no. They want to bargain store by store. So workers are planning to coordinate with each other and put forward the same proposal over and over.
It’s going to take a hell of a lot of militant collective action and solidarity from the labor movement; community, student, and faith allies; and customers to move the needle at the bargaining table.
PLEDGE CREATES A RAPID ACTION NETWORK
That’s why we’re asking people to sign the No Contract, No Coffee pledge. What it says is we’re going to follow the lead of workers, and we’re going to support them in the way they’re asking for support. It’s our way of building a rapid action network for the campaign.
If a store in your community goes on strike, you’ll get a message over email or by text, whichever you prefer, saying, “Hey there’s going to be a picket line, show up in solidarity with those workers.” Or “We’re going to rally at the corporate office on this day.” Or “We have an action at the Mellody Hobson-owned Denver Broncos game.” [Hobson is the chair of the Starbucks board.] It’s a way to alert people about how they can support the campaign.
Sip-ins [where supporters gather in a store to drink coffee] are another way. Sometimes workers call for sip-ins to happen in the week before their election, to pump people up, or if they know there’s going to be a particular kind of union-busting in their store on that day. Some sip-ins have been effective in canceling [mandatory anti-union] captive-audience meetings.
There are lots of creative ways that customers are supporting picket lines [during strikes]. About 90 percent of picket lines have been successful at closing down the store. In some others, the company manages to get enough managers in the store to keep getting coffee out the window. But customers have supported in all kinds of creative ways, including finding ways to be disruptive in the drive-through line. These are not tactics devised by workers or the campaign at all, just things that customers are coming up with.
If you sign the pledge, the first thing we’ll ask you to do is to adopt a store. If you adopt a store, we’ll hook you up with one in your area that’s union, so you can find a way to support that store, and help create a system of aid for those workers.
LABOR DAY PLANS
For Labor Day we’re really focused on having sip-ins at every single unionized or unionizing store. We’re going to try to do at least 300. Workers are also using that weekend to deliver petitions and hold marches on the boss. I would not be surprised if there are strike actions in protest of ULPs [unfair labor practice charges the union has brought to the NLRB] on that day or on that weekend.
We want to get 30,000 more signers on the No Contract, No Coffee pledge on Labor Day weekend. Because we know we’re going to need massive public support.
We have to bring a lot of economic pressure to bear on Starbucks. I think strikes are an important piece of that. But we need a hell of a lot of solidarity from allies in order to amplify the voices of workers at the stores that have organized.
Daisy Pitkin is the national field director for Starbucks Workers United.