GREENVILLE, SC and CARBONDALE, Ill.—An 8-1 Starbucks Workers United victory in the most anti-union state in the United States, South Carolina, “will give a lot of hope” to other campaigns of unionization there, a top Carolinian labor historian, Kerry Taylor, says.
And it is also an indication of the widening reach of the nationwide organizing campaign, led by workers with the help of Workers United, a sector of service employees.
Starbucks workers are currently part of the vanguard of a massive uprising of exploited, low-wage, overworked workers — retailers, warehouse workers, fast-food workers, adjunct teachers, port truckers and others — from a coast to coast.
Workers are using the leverage they have gained from a tight labor market. Forced layoffs and layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic have allowed millions of workers to take a step back. They realized that unionization and competition gave them the opportunity to demand higher wages and benefits and respect in the workplace, which unionization brings.
Even in South Carolina.
In a telephone interview, Citadel professor Taylor, who is also three-time president of the South Carolina Poor People’s Campaign, reported the victory to Starbucks in Greenville. It comes ahead of another Starbucks election result, among 28 workers in the state capital, Columbia. Mail-in ballots will be counted on June 3. Starbucks workers have also filed demands for union election recognition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Sumter and Anderson, SC.
Workers at Columbia Starbucks staged a three-day strike in late May to protest the company’s firing of their manager, who refused to cooperate with Starbucks’ union busting. They returned when, in another union-busting tactic, Starbucks brought in out-of-town workers from other stores to man the Columbia Starbucks drive-thru window.
Union-busting tactics against Columbia workers aren’t stopping union activism in a state notorious for exploiting employers. Taylor reports that Steelworkers are undertaking an organizing campaign at a large upstate tire plant. And teachers’ unions, the NAACP and the ACLU have lobbied lawmakers against banning books in schools and colleges. The target of the banners is a favorite right-wing social issue, a critical theory of race, an academic idea not taught in schools.
Starbucks Workers United’s campaign in South Carolina is part of its national widening campaign to organize overworked, underpaid and often exploited baristas and shift managers at Starbucks stores. The number of organizing campaigns is now well over 200. The wins are at 100 – the latest at the Eastlake store in Starbucks’ headquarters city of Seattle – and counting.
Just since May 25, NLRB data shows Starbucks workers, aided by Workers United, have filed petitions for NLRB union elections in Pittsburgh (40 workers), Denver (40), Clarksville, Ind., just north of Louisville (number not available), Carbondale, Illinois (20), Salem, Oregon (27), Vestal, NY (30), Dallas (15), and Chicago’s Lincoln Village on the north side (16). On May 25, Workers United won four of five storewide union representation votes in Philadelphia.
There are commonalities to all the organizing campaigns, including issues with working conditions – and with Starbucks not living up to its own reputation, but rather acting like other companies in the face of unionization: widespread hostility and the pursuit of profit at the expense of corporations. workers and customers.
“Baristas and shift supervisors do every physical job you get. In return, you see us as your biggest and most inconvenient expense,” the Carbondale workers wrote to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz when announcing their NLRB filing.
“All of our stores are company run and people aren’t getting the hours they need” to make a living, Carbondale barista Ken LeBlanc said in a phone interview. “Our manager even tried to schedule us more hours, but she keeps getting the response from the company ‘Too many hours,'” LeBlanc added.
The result, LeBlanc said, is a community-focused Starbucks store whose employees struggle to serve their neighbors, while Starbucks falls short of its stated goals and image. “We’ve tried their ‘partners to management’ route and it doesn’t work.”
There are other issues at the Carbondale store, LeBlanc noted. One is a food crate that is “at room temperature” rather than at the coolness levels needed to keep food fresh. This upsets the workers, as their store is also a haven for Carbondale’s “displaced people”—and the college-dominated town is small enough that store workers know them by name.
“We have to throw away eight pounds of food every day, and it’s hard to do” when, if the food had been kept cold, it could have fed the displaced. And until Starbucks brought in a professional janitorial company, baristas also had to clean bathrooms. “We had to clean the pipes at night. I don’t know how to get milk fat out of the drain,” LeBlanc says.
NLRB records also show the extent of company retaliation against workers who defend themselves. Since May 25 alone, Workers United has had to file at least 32 labor violation charges (unfair labor practices) against Starbucks nationwide.
They include unlawful dismissals in Richmond, Virginia, San Antonio and Denver, unlawful retaliation in Denver, coercive rules and threats there and in La Quinta and Paso Robles, California, and unlawful interrogations – between other violations – in Nichols Hills, Okla. The latest, May 31: Unlawful reprisals against the leaders of Mesa, Arizona, after Workers United won the vote there.
“It’s not the partners’ fault that Starbucks Corporation has found itself beholden to a slew of insatiable shareholders, and every resource you siphon off from this company to feed them takes quality with it,” the letter states. Carbondale workers to company CEO Schultz. . “Every labor cut carries another botched Frappuccino. Every price increase spawns another irate customer. This business is rapidly deteriorating and customers see it every day. »