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(en) US, Media: IWW* Grinds out Starbucks Victory

Date Wed, 22 Mar 2006 10:01:55 +0200



The Villager Volume 75, Number 43 March 15 -21 2006 I.W.W. grinds out Starbucks victory
The I.W.W. Starbucks Workers Union has won a labor victory
against the biggest coffee chain in the world, due in part
to consumer boycotts that took place in the Village area. In
a settlement brokered by the National Labor Relations Board
on March 7, Starbucks agreed to rehire employees who had
been fired for union-organizing activities, to invalidate
national policies that prohibited the sharing of written
union information and joining the union on company property
and to invalidate the national no-union-pin policy, which
had led to workers being sent home without pay for refusing
to take their "Wobblies" union pins off. Starbucks will also
be required to pay $2,000 to the employees who lost wages
due to union-busting disciplinary measures. The efforts were
largely grassroots, with boycotts in New Zealand and
Scotland as well as several Starbucks locations in the U.S.
Manhattan locations targeted by consumer boycotts included
E. Ninth St. and Second Ave., E. 17th St. and First Ave. and
E. 15th St. and Union Square East.

*****

The Herald Everett, Wash. http://www.HeraldNet.com Monday, March 13, 2006
Union escalates Starbucks effort Associated Press

SEATTLE -- A union that sought to represent Starbucks Corp.
baristas at three Manhattan coffeehouses says it will ramp
up its organizing efforts now that the company has settled
an unfair labor practice complaint over that attempt.

A branch of the Industrial Workers of the World that calls
itself IWW Starbucks Workers Union characterized last week's
settlement as a victory for union organizing. Among other
things, it requires Starbucks to post notices at the three
stores named in the complaint stating that employees have
the right to join a union.

"This settlement creates the organizing space we need to
continue the already positive membership growth we have in
the Starbucks union," Daniel Gross, a Starbucks barista and
IWW organizer, said Wednesday in a phone interview from New
York City.

Starbucks admitted no wrongdoing in its settlement with the
National Labor Relations Board, but agreed to offer two
workers their jobs back and to give three employees back pay
totaling less than $2,000.

The union argued that Starbucks violated federal law by
creating a national policy prohibiting workers from sharing
written union information or wearing union buttons.

In a statement, Starbucks said: "While Starbucks respects
the free choice of our partners and remains committed to
complying fully with all laws governing the right to
organize collectively, we also believe firmly that our
progressive, positive work environment, coupled with our
outstanding compensation and benefits, make unions
unnecessary at Starbucks."

The company contends there are no unionized Starbucks stores
in the United States, but Gross says the IWW represents "a
modest-sized group" of dues-paying members who have
collectively bargained for certain job improvements,
including pay raises.

Gross refused to say precisely how many Starbucks employees
belong to the union, but said it is making progress toward
organizing more workers in New York City and beyond.

*****

Do hot coffee and 'Wobblies' go together?
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 By Kris Maher and Janet Adamy The Wall Street Journal

Unions haven't had much luck organizing Starbucks Corp.'s
baristas, many of whom are part-timers or college students
with little incentive to sign union cards since they're not
planning on building long-term careers brewing venti skim
lattes.

The latest to try to organize the company's workers is the
Industrial Workers of the World, a union with a long, feisty
history and a counter-cultural aura.

Starbucks recently settled a complaint issued by the
National Labor Relations Board that contained more than two
dozen unfair labor practice allegations brought against the
company by the IWW. The settlement stemmed from disputes at
just three stores in New York City and will likely have
little impact on the vast majority of Starbucks workers. But
it illustrates the careful approach the company is taking
toward labor activists as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other
union targets try to rebuild their images after union
campaigns tarnished their reputations.

Starbucks prides itself on offering what it considers
generous pay and benefits. Part-time workers in its stores
are eligible for medical, dental and vision benefits and
Starbucks covers eligible same-sex domestic partners. The
company's medical plan helps pay for treatments like
acupuncture and store workers can get stock options, known
as "bean stock," and tuition reimbursement.

Much of the union's strategy is to try to chip away at
Starbucks' image as a socially responsible corporation.
Earlier this year, Starbucks made Fortune magazine's 100
Best Companies to Work For list, ranked at No. 29.

The IWW has only about 2,500 active members, but its
rank-and-file activism is attracting a small but growing
number of young members. Labor experts say many Starbucks
workers fit the union's profile. In New York, baristas at
three stores have told management they have joined the IWW.
(Union dues are $6 a month -- less than the cost of the CDs
Starbucks sells at its counters.)

The union, whose members were dubbed Wobblies, was founded
in 1905 by socialists and anarchists, including Mary Harris
"Mother" Jones. The IWW was strongest around the World War I
era, but continued even when membership was so diminished,
some believed the group had faded away, when it hadn't.

The organization has always emphasized worker solidarity and
direct action, such as strikes and boycotts, rather than
electing leaders to hash out contracts with employers. IWW
officials argue that contracts can weaken a union's
effectiveness since they limit when workers can strike or
take other actions on behalf of themselves and other
workers. Today, the IWW has members at some employers under
contract while others, like those organizing at Starbucks,
prefer to resolve issues through direct action, without a
contract.

At Starbucks, the IWW's demands include wage increases and
providing workers with guaranteed hours and lower
eligibility requirements and out-of-pocket expenses for
health-care benefits. The union's tactics have included
publicly confronting Starbucks managers with lists of
demands and disrupting store operations by getting
supporters to pay for drinks with pennies.

To make its case, the union pushes a comparison between the
health-care coverage of workers at Starbucks and Wal-Mart,
arguing that about 42 percent of Starbucks employees get
coverage through the company, less than the roughly 46
percent of Wal-Mart workers who receive employer-sponsored
coverage.

"Starbucks has anointed itself a leader in employee health
care but the fact remains that a lower percentage of its
employees are insured than at Wal-Mart," says Daniel Gross,
a 27-year-old IWW union member and an organizer in New York.
"We're going to escalate our outreach to workers, and pierce
the socially responsible image that the company has so
skillfully promulgated around the world."

Audrey Lincoff, a Starbucks spokeswoman, does not dispute
the 42 percent figure but says it's unfair to compare
Starbucks' benefits to those of other employers because it
has a disproportionately young work force. Moreover,
Starbucks contends that the IWW has little support from its
workers, noting that the night before workers were scheduled
to vote on whether to unionize a New York store in 2004, the
IWW withdrew its petition in what Starbucks said was a sign
of insufficient support from workers. The union says it
withdrew because Starbucks legally challenged the size of
the bargaining unit of the election, delaying the vote, and
that its strategy at the company has always called for
direct action over organizing through elections.

Starbucks won't disclose an average wage for its workers but
says that, for example, baristas in New York City start at
$8.75 an hour. According to the National Restaurant
Association, the average wage for cafeteria, food concession
and coffee shop counter attendants was $7.83 in November
2004, the most recent data available. By comparison,
Wal-Mart says it expects to pay workers $10.78 an hour on
average if, as the company hopes, it starts opening stores
in New York City in the near future.

Starbucks' pay "is above the market rate for like chains,"
says John Glass, an analyst at CIBC World Markets who
follows the restaurant industry. "They've done a lot of
things that have made this an attractive place to work."

Employee relations are a key part of the Seattle coffee
chain's image, but experts doubt that fallout from the
recent wrangle with the IWW will taint the Starbucks brand.

"If the consumer's perception is that they're doing anything
unfair or inconsistent with that image, certainly it will
raise questions about the brand integrity with consumers,"
says Denise Lee Yohn, an independent brand marketer based in
San Diego who has done work for restaurant chains.

And yet the company's efforts to appear socially
responsible, from selling fair-trade coffee, helping run a
coffee-bean farmer support center in Costa Rica and making
cups with recycled paper, will probably trump that, Ms. Yohn
says. "They have enough good stuff that kind of causes this
halo effect over everything else, so they probably don't
need to take it as seriously as a Wal-Mart," she says.

Few big unions have tried to organize at Starbucks, for the
same reason they avoid fast-food chains and most retailers:
the high turnover and the small number of workers at each
store makes it hard to maintain organizing gains.

But some say the company is working hard to stay union-free.
The Canadian Auto Workers, the largest private sector union
in Canada, represents about 140 Starbucks workers at 10
stores in Vancouver and recently renegotiated a three-year
contract. Susan Spratt, the CAW's lead negotiator for
Starbucks, alleges the company has fought off further
organizing in part by removing managers and promising better
conditions at stores where the union has tried to sign up
members. Ms. Lincoff would not comment specifically on the
union's allegations but said "we always believe we've acted
fairly and respected the free choice of our partners."

Under the recent settlement in New York, Starbucks agreed to
reinstate two terminated employees who had been vocal union
supporters, pay roughly $2,000 in back pay to three
employees, as well as change companywide policies related to
employees' rights to wear pins and distribute materials in
the workplace. The company settled the complaint without
admitting any wrongdoing.

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 their support" for
the union.

Ms. Lincoff, the company spokeswoman, wouldn't say
specifically whether managers at the company had engaged in
the behaviors detailed in the settlement but said "there's
been no admission of guilt or liability on our part" and
that "we believe we've acted fairly." She says Starbucks
respects the free choice of its workers but believes that
its work environment makes unions unnecessary at the company.

Suley Ayala, a barista at a Starbucks in New York City,
didn't know what a "Wobbly" was before she joined the IWW in
September. The 23-year-old is a practicing Wiccan, and the
union has also filed a religious discrimination complaint
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against
Starbucks on her behalf. She's worked at Starbucks for four
years and she says signed up with the union because she
wanted steadier hours to help ensure that she earns enough
at her current wage of $9.37 an hour to support her four
children.

While her hours have become more consistent thanks to the
union, she says "their health care is way too expensive for
me, so I took Medicaid."

Since the settlement, Ms. Ayala has been wearing as many as
three union pins during her shifts at a Manhattan Starbucks.
Some customers have asked if the workers are forming a
union, and when she answers that they are, "Most of the
time, they say 'good luck,'" she says.
===============================
* IWW is an antiauthoritarian anticapitalist syndicate
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