Big retail coffee chain has to face its Starbucks Workers United

On Wednesday January the 5th workers at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York walked off the job in protest, saying they lacked the staff and resources to work safely amid surging COVID-19 cases.

The employees said they’ve been short-staffed due to COVID and argued the company isn’t taking the Omicron variant seriously. About one-third of the store’s staff are reportedly out due to COVID-related issues. Clearly the company is showing to put profits above human conditions.

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Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said the company has met and exceeded CDC and expert guidelines and offered vaccine and isolation pay.

In December, workers at the Buffalo location became the first in the country to vote to unionize.

Starbucks Workers United broke a significant barrier on December 9 with the first-ever worker win at the big retail coffee chain.

The Christadelphian Ecclesia Brussel-Leuven meeting place we hired, but lost when it was taken over by Starbucks

The last few years we have seen Starbucks coffeeshops popping up everywhere. Here in Belgium we lost our church meeting place to them, taking over the meeting rooms at the motorway station and dividing the restaurant between them and Burger King. I wonder if people are aware how their marketing works and how all over in the world they manage to take over renting places, even when there were other restaurants there for years. In a documentary about Starbucks we got to see a man who had a very nice and successful restaurant in the middle of New York already for 25 years. One day he was surprised to find people coming into the restaurant starting up measuring all things. When he asked them what they did, they told him his place was taken over by Starbucks. That was without him knowing anything about it. His landlord had just given the place to someone else without informing the tenant and without three months of notice. That is how it works in a lot of cases.

For the workers in Starbucks the conditions are not always like it should be. Workers at the Elmwood store in Buffalo voted 19-8 to unionise with Starbucks Workers United, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer announced. Also at another store the union won 15-9, but there were seven challenged ballots and the NLRB will have to decide whether and how many of them to count. At a third Buffalo-area store the union lost 8-12, with two challenged ballots and two invalid votes. In one of many tactics management used to try to beat the union, the firm abruptly closed two more stores which had the most pro-union staff and transferred people into other stores.

Howard Schultz by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Howard D. Schultz, American businessman and author co-founder & chief executive officer of the Starbucks Coffee Company.

Starbucks also brought in co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Starbucks Coffee Company Howard Schultz and other head honchos to argue against the union. Schultz led a mass-firing of executives and employees, and shuttered hundreds of stores. He orchestrated multiple acquisitions of American and Chinese beverage companies, introduced a national loyalty program, and enforced so-called fair trade standards, which with better insight or not so fair as it sounds. Farmers became slaves of that company.

But when pro-union worker Gianna Reeve stood up at a captive audience meeting and asked Schultz to sign a set of fair election principles, “he ran away,” she said.

And it tried to stuff the ballot box by expanding the proposed bargaining unit from the 70 workers whom Starbucks Workers United wanted to include, to 100.

It scrambled with last-minute improvements and a promised pay raise. And it hired Littler Mendelson, a notorious union-buster which advertises itself as the nation’s top corporate law firm.

In Buffalo the tactics failed as the workers became more determined than ever to get their union.

Through investigative journalism, a lot of Starbucks’ bad business has been exposed. They are also very handy in changing the essence of terms or giving certain things other names for what they really cover, so can we hear about “partners” as the Starbucks term for workers, like “associates” at Walmart. Bosses have adjusted even the usage of words in the English language to disguise what they are doing, in true Orwellian style.

Starbucks, with 9,000 stores and 200,000 workers nationwide, is  — like Amazon and Walmart — a domain of low-paid, low-benefit workers. Something lots of customers do not seem to know or want to ignore, though those customers do not get their Starbucks coffee cheap.  (In Belgium it is very pricy.)

For more than a year, workers, marshalled by the Service Employees, the parent union of Starbucks Workers United and other unions, have been rising up against corporate exploitation. Like Amazon we find an unjust social relationship based on an asymmetry of power between workers and their employers, but also the company is using all its power to eliminate possible competitors and to occupy the most profitable places in a city or important locations like rest areas on motorways.

Strangely enough, we could notice in Belgium how Starbucks was allowed to stay open at the airport in Brussels when there was the Corona lockdown. We do not know how the situation was in other countries, but here it was not right when the coronavirus pandemic and the massive job losses it created in the restaurant-bar-hotel sector, already the economy’s lowest-paid, shone a national spotlight in the U.S.A., Belgium and the Netherlands, on such worker exploitation.

11-year-worker Michelle Eisen said:

“It is a company that I came to because they professed to be a company I would want to work for, one of the better ones and someone who cared about the community and their employees and the environment.”

“And in the last few years — and this predates the pandemic — things have changed. There’s been a slide in the working conditions and a very clear shift in how they value their employees and I definitely have felt undervalued.

“Since we went public on August 23, we’ve seen something that’s very contrary to what Starbucks says they are, at least to the public … We’ve seen our stores inundated with Starbucks corporate from all over the country.”

Besides Schultz and Starbucks North America President Roxanne Williams,

“They’ve sent ‘support partners’ to prevent us from talking about the union with our co-workers. They’re called ‘support managers,’ but we know they’re there to surveil us and prevent us from doing the work we’d like to do.”

There were so many managers that one male barista, working at the store on a Sunday, found himself surrounded in a “captive audience” meeting with nine managers and HR reps.

“What I’d like to see after we have our union is to have a seat at the table, a say in our working conditions and a say on our pay. I mean someone hired tomorrow is going to make 63 cents less an hour than I do after 11 years with the company and that’s unacceptable.”

The gap is so narrow, Eisen added, because while she’s had small raises, the newer workers benefit from New York state’s rising minimum wage.

She doesn’t begrudge them that. The state minimum wage is $12.50 an hour outside the New York City metro area, rising to $13.20 on December 31. It’s $15 an hour in the city, its suburbs and Long Island.

“What is clear is that senior employees are not valued the way we should be, given the time and energy we’ve put into this company,”

Eisen added.

Problem with this company is that they are very good in using propaganda and trying to lure many bloggers as influencers making lots of ‘free’ advertisements for them. They are also not averse to encouraging political parties to speak on their behalf or to promoting their products to the public. This way they have begun lobbying the Biden Administration to mandate all American’s try their new vaccine-flavoured macchiato. (Really? – It looks like a hoax, is it not?)

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Find also to read:

By the opening of the Season 2018-2019

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Published by Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".

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