Thousands of unionized Starbucks workers at more than 100 locations across the United States are walking off the job Thursday to protest the coffee giant's refusal to engage in good-faith negotiations with stores that have voted to organize. Workers United, the union representing thousands of Starbucks employees, dubbed the nationwide day of action the "Red Cup Rebellion," a pro-labor counter to Starbucks' annual "Red Cup Day." As Starbucks gives away free reusable cups to customers to mark the holiday season, striking employees nationwide are handing out Starbucks Workers United-branded cups to build public awareness of the union drive and spotlight the company's aggressive and unlawful efforts to crush it.
The top lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the United States has come out strongly against workplace surveillance and management technology that may be used to disrupt union organizing and discourage whistleblower complaints. Jennifer Abruzzo, who is general counsel for the NLRB, wrote a memo in October that was sent to officials at the agency’s regional offices. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which was passed in 1935, protects the “right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”
Washington D.C. - The National Labor Relations Board has determined that Union Kitchen violated several labor laws and engaged in union-busting tactics as workers sought to unionize earlier this year, and that management continued to do so throughout the bargaining process, after workers succeeded in formalizing their unit this summer. According to an NLRB complaint reviewed by DCist/WAMU, management at the food retailer wrongfully terminated several employees, interrogated workers about their union activity, hosted mandatory “captive audience” meetings where workers were encouraged to reject organizing efforts, and tried to offer special benefits if workers distanced themselves from the union drive.
As big brands like Amazon, Starbucks, and Chipotle lash back at worker organizing, union-busting is getting long overdue exposure in the press. But while the stories graphically depict the problem, they don’t offer any solutions. Though many of the common tactics of union-busting are illegal, there are only insignificant penalties that fail to discourage its lucrative practice. This is the only area of law where attorneys can advise clients to commit perjury in federal court without fear of disbarment or even censure. A union leader who understands leverage and human nature, though, can unmask their deception. Union-busting on a plant-wide scale usually takes place under three circumstances: organizing drives, first contract negotiations, and attempts to decertify an existing local.
Lawrence, Kansas - Employees at a second Chipotle location are unionizing, this time in Lawrence, Kansas. The young workers are forming an independent union, and facing harsh—and likely illegal—pushback from management. A majority of workers’ signatures were collected on a petition to submit to the National Labor Relations Board, only to have that petition thrown away by management. So now they’re filing an unfair labor practice charge as they push to form a union. Quinlan Muller has worked at Chipotle for four years, at three different stores. “The Mass Street location is one of the most difficult stores I’ve worked at. We are understaffed, employees aren’t properly trained, and it’s not, like, the cleanest compared to other Chipotles.”
New York city, New York - Starting at 8:00 a.m. on September 1, workers and allies began to congregate at the steps of the Metro Queens UPS facility. The rally built on two-days of tabling, where dozens of coworkers posed for solidarity photos and encouraged coworkers to sign a petition defending “all fired activists.” Veterans of the 2014 ‘Maspeth 250’ wildcat strike, a struggle against the unjust firing of union militant Jairo Reyes, were quick to show their solidarity. So far, approximately 150 workers from the two Maspeth UPS buildings signed the petition, with plans in place to get many more signatures.
$4.3 million in one year spent on anti-union activities at Amazon. $2,625 a day to stop UPS drivers from fighting for their survival amid heat waves and a lack of air-conditioning in their trucks. Over $1 million spent on the union-busting firm Labor Relations Institute to stop stressed-out truck drivers at concrete distributor Cemex from unionizing. Without the mandatory filings with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959, few of us would know about the extent of companies’ union busting or the consultants they engage to lurk in warehouses and on worksites to undermine workers’ union sympathies.
Since the Starbucks Workers United campaign launched last fall, workers have won union authorization elections at 220 stores, and struck at least 60. The company has retaliated harshly—closing some stores, firing dozens of union leaders, claiming interference by the National Labor Relations Board, and calling for a moratorium on mail-in elections. Starbucks also barred union stores from receiving long-awaited benefits to be implemented August 1, provoking several strikes. Jonah Furman from Labor Notes spoke with Tripathi about the joys of the picket line, Starbucks’ retaliation, and how a store manager got so rattled by a collective action that she accused the workers of kidnapping her.
The national wave of union organizing and militancy spearheaded by Starbucks workers and Amazon workers is the biggest upsurge in worker organizing since the 1930s and 1940s. The organizing wave has spread to Trader Joe’s, Chipotle, Apple, REI and a growing list of chain stores and industries. However, this uprising of workers, which holds the potential of not only saving the labor movement, but transforming it, is under life-threatening attack. We must unite in defense of the brave young workers that are the vanguard of this transformative workers struggle. From their corporate boardrooms down to their worksite managers, Starbucks and Amazon are engaged in an outright war to crush the organizing wave. Starbucks is firing union organizers, closing stores, cutting workers hours, and denying pro-union workers wage increases and benefits.
Augusta, Maine - Workers who had hoped to form the first union at a Chipotle Mexican Grill believe the company closed their restaurant and terminated their jobs this week, because they were poised to form the first union among the chain’s 3,000 establishments. Chipotle closed its Augusta restaurant on Tuesday after two-thirds of its employees had pledged to form an independent union, Chipotle United, and just two-and-a-half hours before workers were scheduled to meet with the National Labor Relations Board about their union election. "They knew they would lose," Brandi McNease, who worked the Augusta restaurant for more than three years and led the union drive, said in an interview Friday. "I was just so angry. No. We had a fair fight going. We were doing things the right way, and you just took your bat and ball and went home?
Support for unionization is at an all-time high, with 68% of all Americans and 77% of those ages 18-34 in favor of unions, according to a Gallup poll. While most recent NLRB filings are from Starbucks workers, higher education unions are on the rise as well. Since the NLRB withdrew a proposed rule that would restrict graduate student workers at private universities from unionizing in 2021, there has been an explosion of new activity among that sector, as well as among adjunct faculty. Among undergraduates, the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers won an election earlier this year to expand their bargaining unit to all hourly undergraduate workers on campus. I attended Jackson-Lewis’s webinar designed for university administrators who are worried about unionization on their own campus, to see what they had to say.
After Starbucks announced Monday that it plans to shutter 16 U.S. stores as part of a strategy for addressing store safety, the chain’s rapidly expanding union filed a complaint alleging that the move is a form of union-busting. The coffee chain said that by the end of the month it would close six stores each in the Seattle and Los Angeles areas, two in Portland, Oregon, as well as locations in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. On Wednesday, Seattle workers from Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) — the union that has been organizing stores across the country — filed an unfair labor practice charge arguing that the closures amount to retaliation and illegal coercion against union activity. Of the 16 stores set for closure, two locations in Seattle have successfully unionized and one store in Portland is set for a union vote in August.
The spirit of unionizing is in the air, from Amazon to Starbucks. Now the workers in two frozen food factories in California are getting in on the action. But they're facing serious union-busting from their employer, Amy's Kitchen, despite its progressive branding. Amy’s Kitchen is the sixth-largest maker of organic frozen meals in the United States and the top U.S. producer of organic vegetarian food, according to the North Bay Business Journal. The company employs more than 2,000 workers, a majority of them Central American immigrants who do not speak English. On June 1, UNITE HERE Local 19, representing the workers of Amy’s Kitchen in San Jose, filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against the food company.
For corporations, June has long been a time to adopt a facade of progressiveness while profiting from performing inclusivity of LGBTQ+ people. But in the past two years, a new occasion has fallen prey to this co-optation: Juneteenth. June 19 — or Juneteenth — commemorates the day that the final enslaved people in the U.S. were emancipated. On this day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, a union general announced in Galveston, Texas that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” At the time, 250,000 Black people were still enslaved in the state. While Juneteenth has been celebrated every year since then — Texas was, in 1979, the first state to make it an official holiday — President Biden designated the date a federal holiday in June 2021.
The June 7 Starbucks union win in Memphis, Tennessee, showed that the bosses’ tried-and-true, union-busting tactics aren’t working like they used to. In the face of the February racist firing of the Memphis 7, election tampering by the bosses and constant anti-union interference, workers at that store still voted 11-3 for the union. Workers’ victories at Starbucks, Amazon and other workplaces are happening in the face of anti-union retaliation campaigns, with more firings and cuts in workers’ hours and benefits. That’s why activists with Workers Assembly Against Racism (WAAR) hit the streets June 9 with a ‘March on Union-Busting Billionaires.’ The raucous, militant protest — accompanied by the steady, pro-worker beat of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra — started at the penthouse of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and ended at the luxury apartments of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.