Easter in Seattle: Starbucks workers rise up


Starbucks workers across the U.S. are engaged in an inspiring struggle to unionize the company. They are demanding decent pay and conditions. One important issue is health and safety in the face of COVID.

Over 150 coffee shops across the U.S. have filed with the NLRB for union recognition in recent weeks. In response, Starbucks has engaged in a vicious anti-union campaign. Starbucks management has fired pro-union workers in various places on spurious grounds to crush the union drive.

Howard Schultz, the founder and again the CEO of Starbucks, has made this attitude very clear. In a recent meeting with baristas, he said, “If you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you go someplace else?” Hillary Clinton was planning to nominate Howard Schultz as Labor Secretary if she won the presidency in 2016. This shows the real attitude of the Democratic Party to labor.

Workers are standing up to the victimizations and stalling by management. In Marysville, Wash., 35 miles north of Seattle, workers walked out and shut down a store for a day opposing the firing of pro-union workers. Workers and allies held a rally at Starbucks corporate headquarters in Seattle during the winter.

The movement in Seattle reached new heights over Easter weekend. Starbucks Workers United picked two stores to strike. At the Eastlake store, the strike lasted one day, Friday, April 15. At the Fifth and Pike store, it lasted three days.

The grievances that workers struck over included management cutting workers’ hours, especially those of union supporters; firing pro-union workers; hiring a union-busting firm, Littler Mendelson; and bringing back union hater Howard Schultz as Starbucks CEO.

They demanded the following:

• Immediately reinstate the Memphis 7 …and all other workers unfairly fired for unionizing

• Immediately stop all union busting tactics…

• Adhere to just cause discipline..

• Establish a starting wage of $ 20 per hour and give a 20 percent raise to all workers

• Sign the Fair Election Principles and agree to card check neutrality!

• Mandate plus-one staffing, compensation for short-staffed shifts, and full-time hours for all workers who want them

• Allow debit card tips, remove tip limits, and make all tip payout practices transparent. Minimum tip guarantee of $5.50 per hour

 • Establish annual seniority and cost of living pay increases!

• Provide free and improved health care for all workers.

On the first day at Fifth and Pike, April 15, a large picket line succeeded in forcing management to shut the store before noon. They put up a sign just saying that they were closed, with no reference to the strike. On Saturday, only managers worked, and business fell to virtually nothing, again forcing early closure.

The most rowdy day was Easter Sunday. Even though management closed the store because of the strike, about 40 workers and supporters rallied there for several hours. They set up tables out front, passed out scores of leaflets to passersby, and rallied twice for solidarity speakers. 

Far from being intimidated, the workers at the store publicly stood up to management. They posted a strike notice on the outer door, proclaiming why they were striking and listing all the strikers by name.

Management claimed they were closing because of Easter. Yet two other Starbucks shops, where there was no strike, remained open on Sunday. 

Toward the end of the action, the picketers marched through the downtown area to a couple of other Starbucks and back to the first store. Along the way, they leafleted shoppers and chanted. Some of the most popular chants included, “ What’s disgusting? Union busting!” “Hey Starbucks, get off it! Put workers before profit!” and “Hey Starbucks, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side!”

The rally was addressed by several Starbucks workers and supporters. One was an electrician who had just helped pass a solidarity resolution and contribution from his union, IBEW Local 46.

Starbucks Workers United is planning a major rally and march on Saturday, April 23, at 1 p.m. at Cal Anderson Park in Seattle. People who want to support the Starbucks organizing drive can send donations to: Tinyurl.com/StarbucksWorkerSolidarityFund

Steve Leigh is a member of Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and of the Revolutionary Socialist Network.

Photo: Hanna Scott / KIRO Newsradio

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