A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement
First few lines of all posts of last 24 hours || of past 30 days | of 2002 | of 2003 | of 2004

Syndication Of A-Infos - including RDF | How to Syndicate A-Infos
Subscribe to the a-infos newsgroups
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) US, NYC, Starbucks Workers Get Organized - Follow-up

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 26 Aug 2004 20:08:01 +0200 (CEST)


________________________________________________
A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
http://ainfos.ca/ http://ainfos.ca/index24.html
________________________________________________

Two days after workers at the 36th and Madison Starbucks in
New York City turned in their union cards to the NLRB for a
certification election, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks,
sent them a little voice message. In this dispatch from the
corporate tower, Schultz -- who personally brought in 17
million dollars last year -- tried to appeal to the $7.75
per-hour upstarts in words that would impress George Orwell.
The multi-millionaire CEO began his message by referring to
his poverty-wage employees as "partners", and stressed how
Starbucks and its workers "have built great trust in one
another." He went on to explain that he viewed "treating
everyone with dignity and respect as our highest priority",
and stressed the "caring and supportive culture" of the
company. He ended with this note of pure authenticity: "I
want to conclude by simply thanking you for everything you
do each day, and for being the real heart and soul of
Starbucks."

Not surprisingly, the workers saw right through this
corporate textbook mumbo-jumbo. Their experience had taught
them better. Their story and their ongoing struggle for the
first unionized Starbucks locale of the more than 4,000
Starbucks in the United States is vitally important and in
need of our support.

It started when one worker, a young man in his twenties
named Daniel Gross, was getting fed up with the work
situation of him and his fellow workers. The cost of living
in New York City is extremely high, and Starbucks pays a
starting wage of $7.75 (Gross had worked there long enough
to get a raise up to $8.09, hardly a significant change.)
Furthermore, work hours are inconsistent from week-to-week,
and a forty-hour workweek is not at all guaranteed. The long
hours of working behind an understaffed counter, standing
up, bending down, and handling extremely hot liquids, was
also a pressing concern.

When these grievances went unheeded by management, Gross
turned to organizing his fellow baristas into a union.
Though he earned the anger of the management, he won over
his workmates. On May 17th, the Starbucks Workers Union, IWW
IU/660, filed for a union certification election.

If you go to the union's website
http://www.starbucksunion.org , they prominently display
their three main demands: "Increased Pay and Wages",
"Guaranteed Hours with the Option of Fulltime status", and
"An End to Understaffing". As mentioned above, the starting
pay at a Starbucks in ultra-expensive New York City is a
measly $7.75 per hour, with only the prospect of
insignificant raises in sight. As 23-year-old Maureen
Medianero (who has worked at Starbucks for almost 2 years)
says: "I come to work and I work hard . . . But I'm still
hanging on by a shoe string not knowing if I can make ends
meet to support my daughter. It's frightening."

The demand for a guarantee of sufficient hours is also
crucial for the day-to-day livelihoods of the workers. With
such low pay (and $7.75 is significantly less after taxes),
things like rent, food, and childcare are put into great
jeopardy if they don't receive enough hours. Though
Starbucks offers some forms of employee medical coverage,
this is pointless if workers are not able to have enough
money left over to take advantage of it. Same with a 401(k).
Moreover, hours are often not consistent from week to week,
making workers' lives more difficult (especially those with
children). As Daniel Gross has stated, "They've taken this
concept of flexibility and turned it on its head."

The last demand, concerning understaffing and the
accompanying repetitive strain injuries, is one the workers
take very seriously. As Starbucks worker Anthony Polanco: "A
Starbucks coffee shop is an ergonomic minefield. The stores
are supposed to mimic an Italian café without considering
the uncomfortable bending and reaching we have to do… This
isn't your mom and pop coffee shop, we're talking McDonald's
busy every day. Starbucks talks about 'Creating Warmth' but
the only warmth I feel is the heat pad at the end of the day."

(Incidentally, the union effort has also demanded that
Starbucks purchase at least 5% of its coffee from Fair Trade
Certified sources (currently less than one percent of their
coffee is Fair Trade)).

Though Starbucks tries to posture as a socially conscious
corporation that cares for its employees, the NYC workers'
union struggle is exposing this as mostly lip service.
"Behind the green aprons and smiles are individuals living
in serious poverty," says Gross. "Starbucks cashes in on a
community friendly image but it certainly doesn't extend to
their workers or coffee farmers. That's why we went Union".

Thus, the struggle has taken on significance greater than
its concrete demands. It is also about exposing a
multi-billion dollar corporation which pays its workers
poverty wages, and yet publicly operates under a veil of
benevolence. As Polanco has said, "Starbucks has done a
superb job misleading the public about the way the
corporation treats their employees . . . We felt customers
ought to know how Starbucks really treats the folks who take
pride in serving them their coffee". Gross comments further:
"All of this breaks the myth that Starbucks is a different
kind of corporation, a company that supposedly cares about
their employees."

After the workers applied for a union election on May 17th,
Starbucks went and hired anti-union lawyers Daniel Nash and
Gregory Knopp of the Akin Gump corporate law. They argued
that it was illegal for the workers to just organize in one
branch, that it had to be all 50-plus Starbucks in the lower
Manhattan district or none at all. Of course, this is
absurd. Stuart Lichten, the union's attorney, wrote of
Starbucks' legal maneuvers: "This employer apparently
inhabits some parallel universe, in which $7-an-hour at-will
employees are 'partners,' . . . and 36th Street is 'downtown
. . . The employer, in keeping with its up-is-down
worldview, now asks the Board to overturn more than 40 years
of precedent".

Despite all the efforts by Starbucks to deny their
poverty-wage workers the right to a union, the NLRB issued a
decision in favor of the union on July 2nd. They were to be
allowed their right to vote in a union certification election.

The shady backhand maneuvers of Starbucks and its lawyer
goons, however, took much of the sweetness out of the
victory. Various scare tactics have been deployed to
intimidate the workers into submission: the threat of wage
cuts and loss of benefits, bribes and promotions offered to
those who betray the union cause, and a general hostile work
atmosphere along with a dissemination of misinformation. The
Starbucks workers, rightly seeing all this as a broader
drive to crush their unionization effort, filed an unfair
practice charge against the company on July 22nd, accusing
them of breaking the law and trying to impede the
certification election.

On their website the workers ask: "If Starbucks really is a
bastion of worker benefits, what is Chairman Howard Schultz,
who raked in over $17 million last year, so scared of? . . .
Mr. Shultz is fond of saying the Starbucks Mission Statement
requires respect and dignity for employees but apparently
that does not include exercising the right to form a union…
The company admits that Baristas add tremendous value to the
enterprise yet refuses to pay them a wage that would bring
them out of poverty."

On July 28th, things got harder for the workers with a new
NLRB decision to hear an appeal from Starbucks. Quoting from
the union's website: "The Bush Administration-controlled
National Labor Relations Board accepted for review yesterday
an appeal by Starbucks of the IWW IU/660 victory that
allowed workers at a single store in the chain to vote in a
union certification election. The decision effectively
disenfranchises workers because regardless of the outcome of
the appeal the result of the election is suspended for
several years while the case is being decided."

Daniel Gross, in response to the decision, had this to say:
"Starbucks and its union-busting law firm have succeeded in
obliterating our right to a vote . . . The company has
established beyond a shadow of a doubt that it follows an
extreme anti-worker union avoidance policy."

Unfortunately for the company, the Starbucks Workers Union
is based on the solidarity unionism model, also known as
minority unionism, where government certification is
unnecessary and demands are won through direct action.

The union's website also ties the July 28th NLRB decision
into a broader picture of the ongoing class war being waged
against workers: "The decision by the Republican-majority
NLRB is the latest in a series of rulings that have rolled
back the right of workers to organize a union. A July 13th
decision held that graduate student instructors are not
employees and thus not entitled to form a union. Prior to
that, the Board rescinded the right of employees outside of
a union setting to have a co-worker present at disciplinary
meetings."

With all this, the Starbucks workers are still fighting hard
to trailblaze the way towards the first unionized Starbucks
in the United States. In this struggle, they need our
solidarity now more than ever. It will take a mass
solidarity campaign from below to force Starbucks to cave in.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the potential
significance of this struggle in a July 2nd article: "If it
succeeds, the group could score a notable public-relations
victory for the labor movement. It might even encourage more
organizing in the hard-to-unionize service industry."

This should be doubly stressed: we are always talking about
how workers in the service industry, from fast food to
Walmart, need to get organized, and that if they did, it
would not only make them a force to be reckoned with, but
generally revive the labor movement with an infusion of
energy from some of the most exploited. These Starbucks
workers are going ahead and actually trying to do it. In
fact, the effort in New York City has sparked a national
campaign to organize Starbucks. IWW members and supporters
all over the country are reaching out to workers with an
offer of support to improve wages and working conditions.
Simultaneously, a student movement is fast emerging on
college campuses to support the creation of the Starbucks
Workers Union.

Says Daniel Gross, "We are hopeful the campaign will spread
like wildfire". Indeed, this fight could potentially be an
inroad into a more widespread unionization effort in sectors
of the service industry like Starbucks.

The New York Times ran a June 11th article on Daniel Gross
and the union effort. They quote him as saying, "There's
something wrong when the chairman is taking in $17 million
in 2003, but baristas, who are the foundation of the
company, are living in grinding poverty and serving very hot
drinks at unsafe speeds under ergonomically incorrect
conditions." Ultimately, this struggle is about a few, poor,
courageous workers taking on a multi-billion dollar
corporate behemoth that has deployed all the PR that money
can buy to portray themselves as a caring, just employer
(but who seem to think "treating everyone with dignity and
respect" means keeping them in poverty and denying them
their right to organize).

The odds might seem to be against the Starbucks workers, but
Anthony Polanco assures us, "We remain steadfast in our
belief that Starbucks workers deserve better . . . A poverty
wage is not sufficient to live a decent life. The Union is
here to stay."

These workers are risking their livelihoods to wage this
important struggle. The least we can do is show our
solidarity. So . . .

What can you do to help the Starbucks workers?

As said above, this is the type of fight we are always
saying needs to be waged. Now that it is, there are some
little things you can do that would be of great help to the
workers who are taking on this more-than-4 billion-dollar
corporation:

1. Contact Starbuck's CEO Howard Schultz at
mailto:hschultz@starbucks.com and call Starbucks at
800-235-2883 to express your support for the Union.

2. Go visit the union's website at
http://www.starbucksunion.org , or contact them at
mailto:starbucksunion@yahoo.com .

3. If you have a website, blog, paper, or radio show, run
something about this struggle. Spread the word far and wide.

4. Give a piece of your mind to the corporate lawyers of the
Akin Gump firm that Starbucks hired to deny the workers
their right to form a union as they choose. Contact DANIEL
L. NASH, Partner, Robert S. Strauss Building, 1333 New
Hampshire Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20036, Telephone:
202-887-4067, Fax: 202-955-779, Email:
mailto:dnash@akingump.com. And contact GREGORY W. KNOPP,
Counsel, Mail -- 590 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022,
Telephone: 212-872-1052, Fax: 212-872-1002, Email:
mailto:gknopp@akingump.com

5. Tell the managers at your local store that you support
the right of Baristas to organize. Print out the flyer on
the union's website here and pass it out at your local
Starbucks. Let the workers know about the union effort.

6. Organize a rally outside of a Starbucks in support of the
NYC workers. You can print out a fact sheet here to pass out
to customers.

7. Go to the website and donate money to the effort.

8. Lastly, if you are planning to be in New York City for
the Republic National Convention, attend the protest
condemning the Bush Administration's intervention on behalf
of Starbucks against the IWW. It'll be on Saturday, August
28, at 2 pm at the Starbucks on 36th and Madison in Manhattan.


*******
********
****** The A-Infos News Service ******
News about and of interest to anarchists
******
INFO: http://ainfos.ca/org http://ainfos.ca/org/faq.html
HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
SUBSCRIPTION: send mail to lists@ainfos.ca with command in
body of mail "subscribe (or unsubscribe) listname your@address".

Options for all lists at http://www.ainfos.ca/options.html


A-Infos Information Center