On Saturday, Oct. 15 workers at the Starbucks Reserve located at N. 7th St. and Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg staged a day-long strike in response to management changing store hours and employee benefits without first negotiating with workers and other alleged labor violations. This is part of a wave of strikes at multiple shops that are currently organizing with Starbucks Workers United union (SBWU), a worker-led effort that has unionized 239 Starbucks stores around the country since December 2021.
Workers picketing at the Reserve, who voted 10-0 to unionize on June 21, carried signs calling on Starbucks to cease ongoing union-busting efforts and chanted the now-familiar call and response, “No contract/No coffee!”
“We have multiple occurrences of the same kinds of infractions,” Arianna Ayala, a member of the store’s organizing committee and a Starbucks worker for more than a year, told The Indypendent. “Store hours changing, biohazards not being shut down, and asking the store to remain open during an unsafe work environment,” she said.
The announcement of the strike was made late Friday evening in response to a flare up between workers and the store’s manager. The timing of the strike coincided with a planned interview between the manager and corporate to determine if they would be hired as a permanent manager. Four workers from the shop itself were joined by over 30 supporters from a variety of organizations including Workers United, RWDSU, CWA, the DSA and fellow Starbucks workers employed at other stores. Austin Locke, recently at the center of a dispute with a Starbucks in Astoria, was present alongside workers from the Caesar’s Bay location in Bath Beach off the Belt Parkway, the first Starbucks to unionize in Brooklyn.
“They are treating union stores differently from non-union stores; they’ve given raises to non-union workers, different benefits.”
Three workers, two of whom were reportedly unaware of the union’s call to strike, arrived at the store prepared to work — but following a lack of response to the manager’s message to the store group chat asking who was coming in, the store decided to cease operations for the day.
On the picket line, another member of the shop’s organizing committee who wishes to remain anonymous shared grievances that workers were aiming to address with the work stoppage. “They are treating union stores differently from non-union stores; they’ve given raises to non-union workers, different benefits. We lost our COVID benefits.” The worker said these concerns affect workers nationwide as the company aims to curb organizing efforts. Regarding concerns with their shop specifically, they said “There’s been disciplinary action without bargaining for standards of discipline, a lack of managerial presence and support in the store which has left us all scrambling time and time again. There’s been a lack of proper training for new partners, leaving new partners feeling lost and unsupported and contributing to the overall chaos in the store.”
Brand Lander, the current Comptroller and former New York City Councilman, was in attendance and briefly joined the picket line. Lander, an advocate for increased labor protections, offered praise for the unionists. “It takes a lot of courage to form a union. It takes a lot of courage to go on strike.”
Starbucks has waged a brazen union-busting campaign against SBWU and has been forced to reinstate numerous union workers by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Currently, there are six unionized Starbucks stores in New York City.
Regarding SBWU’s ongoing efforts to continue organizing in the metropolitan area, Ayala said, “As a region, we just really try to focus on getting that support and giving that morale for other stores to take the next step.” In a message to other Starbucks workers that are currently not organized, she said, “If you’re even thinking about doing it, just do it. Just talk to your coworkers, you know your store the best. You know what your store needs the most. No one, not even other stores that are organized, can ever tell you that you don’t already know about your store and what you need.” And, on the potential of Starbucks coming to the table to bargain a first contract: “Eventually! I’m optimistic, because we’re willing to wait for as long as it takes.”
There are 15,703 Starbucks stores in the United States as of Oct. 10. Since 2021, at least 336 U.S. Starbucks locations have been organized, including 47 where a union vote failed, 28 where a petition to vote was withdrawn and 49 that are currently in the election process. That doesn’t include stores where workers were involved in a labor struggle that never filed for union recognition with the NLRB.
Unionization efforts by SBWU continue across the country as part of a surge in labor organizing across the country since 2018. Some are hopeful that this current uptick in unionization and worker-led direct action will flourish into a sustained resurgence of the U.S. labor movement resulting in nationwide triumphs for workers.