This month Starbucks workers at three locations in Buffalo NY made history by voting to confirm their union. Workers at one store voted overwhelmingly to approve the union, the vote at a second location did not succeed, and at the time of writing several votes at a third location are being disputed; however, the margin favors another union victory. Since the union drive was first announced, workers at locations across the country have stated their intent to gain union recognition, and the victory at one location (and likely a second) has only encouraged more union announcements.
Starbucks is unique among major food and beverage chains, in that most locations are managed directly through the Starbucks corporation. At other chains it is more common for the brand to be franchised through local ownership. This presents a range of unique challenges to unionization efforts, not least of which is the ability for the energies of the entire corporate structure to be aimed at an area or even single store to propagandize, cajole or threaten workers, all with the goal of breaking the workers’ solidarity.
The exception to Starbucks’ structure comes when a cafe is located inside another corporate chain. A Starbucks cafe inside a Target, Barnes & Noble, hotel or airport is typically managed and staffed by the business which houses it. In the case of a Target location this shifts any union efforts back to the larger store. However, in the case of hotels and airports, it is much more likely that a union is already organized within the larger operation. In the Twin Cities metro area this scenario exists with UNITE HERE Local 17, representing Starbucks workers at the MSP airport and at any unionized area hotel with a Starbucks cafe.
The confluence of specifics for organizing Starbucks locations has created a unique role that DSA chapters could play in the coming months. One thing that was heavily noted during the Buffalo area union drive was the outspoken levels of community support during the drive and afterward. Coffee drinkers and comrades alike made sure to express how unequivocally they supported the baristas, cashiers and servers. Those workers in turn made clear how much that support strengthened their courage as seemingly every corporate flunky from middle managers to the CEO “dropped by” to intimidate with a smile on their face.
If words of support can help organizing efforts in the heat of an organizing drive, who knows what can come from coordinated expressions of solidarity all over a metro area? The Twin Cities in particular already has momentum in the recent past for service and hospitality labor organizing. In addition to the waves of brewery and distillery union drives, we have even seen worker organizing happening at local Starbucks, even if no one at the time was using the “U-word”.
Therefore, Twin Cities DSA is formulating a plan with UNITE HERE Local 17 organizers to run a campaign in the new year in which volunteers will go into Starbucks corporate-run cafes throughout the metro, express our solidarity with any current or future union efforts, and relay to them contact information, should they be looking for assistance and advice. This effort will involve 1-on-1 training for those new to workplace organizing. Details will be presented at our next general chapter meeting on Sunday 9 January 2022.
By Anders B