Another Starbucks goes Union

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 4:04 pm
Ft. Worth Starbucks Joins The One Big Union
Group Of Women Wobblies Take On The Coffee Giant–And Win!

Industrial Worker - March 2010 ... mode=print

By Liberte Locke

On Dec. 18, 2009, four brave women baristas of the 8th & Rosedale Starbucks in Ft. Worth, Texas, declared their membership with the IWW Starbucks Workers Union (SWU).

It was exactly one week before Christmas, which is Starbucks' busiest time of year. More importantly, the store manager, Lindsay Karsh, had declared it Partner (Employee) Appreciation Day. In past years, Partner Appreciation Day was when the manager would use company money to purchase pizza for all the workers as a sort of holiday gift right before Christmas. This year, on top of cutting hours, delaying raises, forcing baristas to work with H1N1 (“swine flu”), and disrespecting workers, the store manager decided to save the store money and made the day a potluck. Workers—who are struggling to survive and are making just above minimum wage—were forced to buy their own food in order to participate. The entire store was furious and not a single worker participated in the potluck.

At 10:00 a.m. on Partner Appreciation Day, local Wobblies parked a car at the order screen of the drive-thru for the 8th & Rosedale Starbucks and exited the car. They taped a poster to the back window that read "Honk If You Want Baristas to Have a First Aid Kit!" A supporter stood closer to the front of the drive-thru with another sign, this one saying, "Honk if You Want Baristas to Make a Living Wage!"

Once the drive-thru was successfully shut down, union baristas Bree Bailey, Michelle Cahill and Casey Keeling entered the store with other Wobblies and supporters, including myself. Immediately, customers were given small fliers that simply declared, "This Starbucks Just Went Union!" while baristas working the floor were given pizza as a gift from the IWW. The pizzas came in fully decorated pizza boxes mostly painted red and black with the IWW globe. One box said, "In the Union, Baristas Are Appreciated!” and another box was designed to be a play on Starbucks Christmas decorations.

Somehow, Karsh and district manager Lisa Noble didn't realize what was happening until the women and I waited patiently in line, as if to order a drink, to speak to Karsh. Once we got to the front of the line, we were face to face with Karsh, who had a very tense smile stretched across her face. FW Casey handed Karsh their demand letter while FW Michelle stated that they were happy to announce they had joined the international Starbucks Workers Union. While Michelle was speaking to Karsh and Noble, it was clear in that instant that power had changed hands—and it became too much to bear for the startled managers.

Seeking a distraction from having to hear their employees’ concerns, the managers started to tell Steven Morrow, the Panther City IWW delegate who was filming the action, to stop videotaping. Starbucks, always concerned with their public image, hates it when we film workers engage in concerted activities. Knowing our rights, FW Steven continued filming. That issue settled, Karsh tried another distraction by straining over the pastry case to try taking orders from customers standing behind the Wobblie baristas. Little did she know that she was trying to take orders from other Wobblies that were there to support their Fellow Workers. After their list of demands was delivered, we all left the store and prepared for the press conference that we had planned for two hours later.

The press was notified of the baristas joining the IWW and demanding, among other things, a first aid kit, sick pay, and to not be forced to work while showing H1N1 symptoms. At the same time, each public branch of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union in the country notified both their district managers and store managers of the baristas’ union affiliation, along with a warning about what would happen if the company retaliated against our new union sisters—making it abundantly clear that the entire union is watching and that our dedication to our Fellow Workers is fierce and steadfast. During the press conference, we held a banner and signs at the busy intersection. One sign read "Don't Mess with the IWW Starbucks Workers of Ft. Worth" and another said "Baristas Make a Nickel Above Poverty Wage." At one point, a woman pulled over and identified herself as a member of the SEIU out in Portland. She asked if we were Wobblies. We told her we were, and she asked if we were accepting donations. She gave what was described as her "last five dollars" to the Ft. Worth Starbucks Workers Union because she said that Wobblies in Portland were always so kind and supportive and she was glad to see that there were Wobblies in Ft. Worth. Many customers showed support also. One regular came over to talk and left with an IWW pin on her shirt, declaring that she was going to talk to the Starbucks manager about giving them raises and a first aid kit.

To give the press something additional to shoot, we went back to the drive-thru, this time not entirely blocking it, but chanting "No Union, No Latte" and "What's disgusting? Union busting! What's outrageous? Starbucks wages!" to the people in the cars who were waiting for drinks. FW Michelle went over to several cars to explain what was happening and got reassurance from many regular customers that they supported them and believed they were doing the right thing.

At the time, we didn't realize what an impact the press coverage was going to have, but by that evening we were all over the local news, including NBC and FOX. This prompted the president of the Teamsters Local 767 to call and personally invite the Ft. Worth Starbucks Workers Union to be guests of honor at the next evening's Teamster Christmas party in Dallas. There are so few unions in Texas that they all try to stick together and support one another. Months back, the local IWW had shown up to support the Teamsters 767 sanitation workers at a rally, and those workers remembered them once they saw the IWW on the news. We all went to the Christmas party and had a very funny moment on stage when it was me, Casey, Bree, Michelle, FW Steven, and Bree's partner, and the stage was full of men in suits that were Teamster officials. One official approached us and we said we were from the IWW Starbucks Workers Union and it became obvious that these men had assumed that the men we were with were the union baristas, going to shake their hands first and congratulate them. Being supportive male comrades, they referred the Teamsters over to the women organizers. FW Michelle spoke in front of nearly 2,000 Teamsters about the IWW and the Starbucks campaign, getting a lot of applause and supportive words from members throughout the evening.

Within one day of delivering their demand letter, the baristas got their first aid kit. Also, their schedule was redone to give workers more hours and to have shifts fully staffed (another of their demands). There was a little note written by the manager on a white board that declared "Happy Partner Appreciation Day! Thank you for all that you do!" Over the weekend, the other union baristas and I took turns sitting in the cafe during shifts when any of the newly public Wobblies were working just to show a presence of solidarity for those working. We spoke with workers, and we flyered other Starbucks stores in the area. Many baristas recognized us from the news and were happy to see us in their stores. Within two weeks of the action, the manager gave out performance reviews that were well overdue, and the entire staff finally received their raises.

This was a truly inspiring experience. I am confident in saying that we, as the IWW, did this the right way. Through the tireless efforts of Wobblies throughout the country and the world, we were able to hit Starbucks hard, make serious wins, give real tangible support to our Fellow Workers, and make another push toward having organized labor in the South.

IWW branches from around the world sent cards to the union baristas welcoming them to the IWW, and many branches and individual members sent donations for the action and the branch. Because of Fellow Workers’ donations and support, I was able to take a week off from work and fly from New York City—where I've been organizing at my Starbucks for nearly three years—to Ft. Worth to play a supportive role for our Fellow Workers going public, hoping to solidify their connection with the international campaign and share my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned so that they would be better prepared than I was when my store went public. Also, I wanted to join the action so that Starbucks could see the power of the union. The last thing they expected was another broke barista flying down there to show support.

There is also a serious feminist bent to all this: a woman organizer flying down there to work with a group of all-women workers to stand up to their female bosses. This was an important point that was not lost on us. In part, it's why I'm writing the article. We know that women still have a long way to go before being seen as equals in a real way in society, at our jobs, and, on some occasions— though it's sad to admit—even in this union. Something that really left an impression on me and the other women was how much true solidarity we felt from all the men in the IWW that really stepped up to help us however they could, some to the point of complete exhaustion. We want to thank every person and IWW branch that lent their support in any way for this action.

This is the first Starbucks in Texas, or any “right-to-work” state, to declare union membership. Baristas Bree Bailey, Michelle Cahill, Casey Keeling, and a barista signed up after the action, Alena Springer, have joined in what has already been a five-year battle with Starbucks to treat its employees with respect and dignity. Please send emails of support to Watch the YouTube video "Ft. Worth Starbucks Workers Union" to see the action for yourself. Buy a Starbucks Workers Union assessment stamp from your local delegate or donate online at
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