Workers at Starbucks coffee stores across the U.S. are fighting for union recognition. Working with Starbucks Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, employees at 345 stores in 39 states have filed petitions to unionize. Two hundred sixty-four Starbucks stores in 36 states have won union elections, with just 59 stores losing their vote. Thus far, the unionization drive covers only 2 percent of the company’s 250,000 U.S. employees.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who portrays himself as a fair, liberal boss, is opposing the unionization campaign despite being counseled by some of his closest advisors that he should remain neutral. As part of his anti-union tactics, Schultz has raised wages and improved benefits for workers who have not joined the union, which caused the federal National Labor Relations Board to file a complaint against the company for discrimination.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Aleah Bacetti, a pro-union former Starbucks employee who was fired and now volunteers with Starbucks Workers United. Here, she explains some of the anti-union tactics being used by the company and the union prioritizing non-economic issues such as demanding a non-discrimination policy, fair treatment for all workers and remediation of the mold in Starbucks’ ice machines.
ALEAH BACETTI: Across the board, Starbucks is doing whatever they can to not fairly bargain with us. They are using tactics that are extremely off-putting and sad. They don’t want to come to the table at all, and when they have come to the table, they have argued that our right to — with Covid and everything, some people can’t leave their store, some people can’t go — so it is their right to log into Zoom and hear in the hearing what’s going on in their store. Starbucks has refused to allow people to do that. And they say if you want to participate you have to be in the room, but then they won’t give people days off, if needed, to go. It’s ridiculous and they’re really just wasting everyone’s time. I think they assume running out the clock is the best option right now, instead of doing what’s fair and what’s just, and just coming to the table and negotiating with us and letting us get our contract.
MELINDA TUHUS: I know that Amazon started improving people’s salaries and even benefits to try to keep the unions out, and they’ve succeeded in some places in keeping it out. There’s been votes against the union, although the one in Staten Island was in favor and that was a huge deal. In terms of your pay and benefits, are all the people part time? Can you tell me a little about the situation before you were fired, and what the other workers are dealing with?
ALEAH BACETTI: At least in Maryland, where I live, the rate was $13 an hour. It has gone up since Aug. 1, it’s one of Starbuck’s tactics, kind of like Amazon, kind of cushioning the blow and giving people more benefits to try to balance out and kick the union out. So they did go up to $15 an hour, but when I was there I was only making $13. And you know, the same benefits you hear on-line, like the Starbucks Schooling was something anyone could participate in as long as they had a minimum of 20 hours a week. Then they could go to ASU for free with Starbucks. A lot of the things they claim are “free,” do tend to be tax benefits. It’s free upfront, you’re not paying them then and there, but you will get taxed on it.
MELINDA TUHUS: What about health benefits? Were there any health benefits?
ALEAH BACETTI: There are health benefits. They’re not the best, obviously, but there are health benefits, yes.
MELINDA TUHUS: What is Red Cup Day, and what happened on that day that was significant?
ALEAH BACETTI: It’s a very significant day, it’s kind of the kickoff to their holiday season, going from Thanksgiving into Christmas. Everyone’s ordering their favorite holiday drinks around that time. It’s a very, very, very significant money day for Starbucks. What we decided was to take action by making them pay attention on this particular day. We felt that the best way to get them to listen to us and finally want to do something was if we shut down a couple of stores those days and go on strike. So over a hundred stores went on strike that day across the nation, and we handed out our own Red Cups. So we had union red cups; it had a Grinch holding an ornament and it was very cute, very significant, to how we kind of feel about Howard Schulz stealing Christmas and stealing joy from people, so that’s why we associate it with the Grinch. We also had beanies for strike workers or people standing on the line with us and supporting us and not crossing the line.
It was a very successful day; a lot of stores got shut down. A lot of stores didn’t open up. Some stores tried to bring in their manager to actually work, but I don’t think it was super-successful as they thought it was going to be. We want people to know that what Starbucks is doing is bullying and union-busting is in fact really gross and awful and disgusting and the tactics they’re using are inhumane. You’re taking away people’s money, people’s opportunity to work, right before it gets cold outside.
We’re having partners that are fired at crazy rates. I think we’re up to 146, 140+plus partners that have been fired and some of these people could go homeless, right before holiday season before it gets cold outside.
MELINDA TUHUS: So, in terms of the bargaining. Well, there isn’t even any bargaining, but if there were to be bargaining, is it store by store? Are you all in the same union, or are you all in separate things?
ALEAH BACETTI: Yeah, it is store-to-store bargaining contracts. Across the board most of us have the same asks. There are going to be a couple of different asks in different regions and it’s going to be based on the store in particular and what they want. And the reason we do that is because the union isn’t a third-entity coming in deciding what we should and shouldn’t benefit; the union is the people that work at that store. So, while, yes, we are all in the same union, what we would want in certain stores are really dependent on people in that store and the people in that area, and that’s why it’s contract to contract. I know there’s a store in Pittsburgh that’s asking specifically for Narcan use, because of the amount of customers who come in to their store who have OD’d in the past. So they’re asking for Narcan use and Narcan training in their store.
For more information, visit the Starbucks Workers United Union at sbworkersunited.org.
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