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(en) US, Pittsburgh IWW* Strikes again at Starbucks’ Anti-Union Practices

Date Tue, 19 Dec 2006 18:33:13 +0200

We workers can continue to grovel for these low-wage jobs, or we can just wring our hands in despair, or we can stand up and demand better treatment from these moneymaking corporations. We all know what Starbucks wants its so-called “partners” to do. It’s no mystery why Starbucks is firing workers for organizing, trying to get them to think that a union is unnecessary, and keeping a close eye on those of us who want an independent voice at work.” -- IWW Starbucks Union member
PITTSBURGH, PA— For more than an hour on Saturday afternoon, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) again protested in front of a local Starbucks, this time on the city’s Southside. For the third time in recent weeks members of the IWW Starbucks Union and allied Friends of Labor protested against what they say is Starbucks’ continued anti-union behavior, low wages and insufficient working conditions. December 16th marked what Starbucks must now understand to be a well coordinated and growing international movement by the IWW to express its grievances against the world’s largest retail coffee company.

About twenty protesters—some just back from supporting the United Steel Workers’ local protest against Goodyear—positioned themselves along a narrow sidewalk in front of Starbucks on E. Carson St. as local residents, weekend workers, and business owners looked on. Famed local musician and IWW member Anne Feeney was on hand with her well-worn guitar to inspire the group into singing several songs familiar on picket lines, such as the classic Labor anthem, “Solidarity Forever” (a union favorite written by the IWW in 1915). The union chanted, waived its familiar “An Injury to One is an Injury to All” signs, and encouraged passing motorists to honk in support of the union. Organizers also talked with people while handing out flyers and humorous “Three Dollar StarveBucks”—a fake $3 bill with the face of Starbucks CEO Jim Donald on it to illustrate what the union views as enormous profit-making at the expense of workers. In June 2006, the Seattle Times reported that Mr. Donald received an 81% raise in ‘05, bringing his pay to about $13 million. If Mr. Donald were a barista, he’d make about $12,500 an hour.

In what seems to be standard Starbucks procedure, a high-level manager was sent to greet and appease the crowd with trays of coffee and cake. Starbucks offers freebies as a way of “making nice” to the public and protesters. But this time the IWW, historically known for its creative tactics, was ready for the public-relations stunt. After activists kindly accepted the generous coffee and cake samples from Starbucks trays, they then placed them onto the IWW’s own tray lined with a message that read, “Starbucks Union-Busts.” As the Starbucks manager confusedly looked on, a union activist wearing a green Starbucks apron then began to greet passersby with Starbucks’ own goodies. “We had a lot of great conversations about the union as people stopped for a free Starbucks treat,” said the union barista. “There was no way anybody could miss our point when they reached for a treat. Starbucks really helped us create some new friends of labor.” It wasn’t long before Starbucks realized that it was subsidizing the work of the protesters and withdrew its free samples from the public.

After the protest IWW member Tom Shearer III said, “We had a lot of support today and that shows us that people are starting to get it. As more of us find ourselves stuck in this new high-profit low-wage economy we’re realizing that no amount of feel-good corporate spin is going to change our economic needs.” Shearer went on to say that most people think that a living wage in Pittsburgh should be around $12 an hour—something Starbucks could pay its workers and still be very profitable. Shearer agreed with his union that most workers supporting families just can’t make it on part-time wages between $7 and $9 an hour.

Randy Trapanick, Starbucks district manager on hand for the demonstration, stated that the company invests a lot of its profits into progressive projects like environmental causes. He also said that if Starbucks were to raise the wages for all of its employees it would be at the expense of a lot of other good things Starbucks does. IWW organizer Kevin Farkas contended, “Paying workers a living wage is also a good cause. The last time I checked we were all buying our gas at the same stations, food shopping at the same markets, paying the same utility rates, getting car insurance from the same places, paying the same cable bills. Whether you are a 19 year old college student or a 39 year old single mom, we all need more than what Starbucks chooses to provide.” Another protester who identified herself only as an IWW Friend of Labor said, “It’s sad that a company like Starbucks can call itself progressive while doing this to its own employees. A lot of my friends work at Starbucks and they’re really cool people, but they’re just getting by. Shame on Starbucks.”

The IWW Starbucks Union is vowing to keep the public spotlight on Starbucks until it stops union-busting and improves its wages and other working conditions. Currently, the National Labor Relations Board is investigating the firings of the five NYC baristas and is not expected to have a ruling until sometime next year. However, the union is quick to point out that in March 2006 Starbucks was charged with unfair labor practices and the NLRB directed the company to change its policies toward union organizing. The March NLRB settlement reinstated two workers active with the union movement and forced Starbucks to pay roughly $2,000 in back pay to three employees and change discriminatory policies, including the workers’ right to wear union buttons (which Starbucks had denied them) and to distribute union materials in the workplace. Starbucks also promised not to provide employees with benefits, including after-hours store cleaning services, free pizza, free gym passes, and free baseball tickets, in order to encourage employees to withdraw support for the union.

Despite any pressure put on Starbucks from the Labor Board, the IWW contends that the coffee giant will try everything to keep the union from having a voice at work. “The boss doesn’t want a union here and says so,” Shearer said, “Not on Carson St., not in Pittsburgh, and certainly not in New York City where the five baristas were sacked for legal organizing. But the IWW Starbucks Union isn’t here to listen to the boss.”

The Pittsburgh Starbucks Union, along with its Friends of Labor supporters, has planned future protests. To learn more about the Starbucks Union, email PghStarbucksUnion@yahoo.com and visit www.StarbucksUnion.org.
* An antiauthoritarian anticapitalist initiative
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