First Greater Boston Starbucks Unanimously Back Unionization

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By Henry De Groot

BROOKLINE — On Monday, two Greater Boston Starbucks stores voted unanimously to unionize.

The 1304 Commonwealth Ave Starbucks in Allston voted 11-0 to unionize. The ballots of an additional 5 shift managers were challenged by the company, but the margin was such that the National Labor Relations Board certified without counting these ballots. The Coolidge Corner store in Brookline likewise voted 14-0 to unionize. 

These double victories mark the 17th and 18th units to win union elections at Starbucks in the last few months, out of 19 total elections. 

“We just made history today, and we are going to keep making history until we unionize every Starbucks across the country,” said barista and organizer Kylah Clay. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the baristas at our stores and the baristas throughout Massachusetts.”

Even though Boston stores were some of the first to file for election after the initial victory in Buffalo, the election was delayed as Starbucks’ lawyers fought over the size of the bargaining unit. Corporate pushed to exclude shift managers, but the workers won the initial hearing and appeal, allowing the vote to move forward.

This Is What Solidarity Looks Like

Workers and supporters gathered at the Brookline Booksmith to watch a livestream of the ballot count in anticipation of the victories. Workers and supporters cheered, cried, and danced during ballot counting as victory became evident. A press conference followed the count as lead organizers shared their excitement and thoughts about what lies ahead.

At the press conference, worker-organizers pointed to the domino effect, as each win emboldens pro-union baristas. Speakers pointed out how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the exploitation of the working class and radicalized an entire generation of workers. 

Ash O’Neill speaks to workers, supporters at Brookline Booksmith

”I’m absolutely ecstatic about this win, and it shows that we can all push through this.” shared Ash O’Neill, a barista at the Allston Starbucks. Ash also highlighted the role of social media as the driving force, helping to reach new workers and share the excitement of each victory.

“This is a sign that we’re not going to take corporate greed,” barista Tyler Daguerre added. “We’re going to keep pushing until the bargaining table and thereafter.”

Starbucks workers from other unionizing shops around Massachusetts attended the event, and a handful of workers came all the way from Buffalo, New York, to show solidarity. 

Casey Moore was one of those who traveled from Buffalo. Her store is still in the process of unionizing, but Casey has been part of the local organizing committee since August. Casey pointed out how this movement is by-and-large run by the workers themselves, with Workers United playing a supporting role. 

Workers from the Buffalo and Boston stores have been coordinating for months, and are both part of the larger national organization. Casey shared that the national effort is decentralized and mostly run through Slack, but committees are starting to form including a National Solidarity committee and a TikTok committee. When new baristas reach out to get involved, they are forwarded to a local lead organizer who helps them to build their campaign.

Dave Runkle was in attendance as a community supporter. Dave, a law student at Suffolk University Law School, has been helping to run Know Your Rights trainings for Starbucks Workers United. The trainings have helped to push back against anti-union messaging. “If you get the right information to the workers, they can make the decisions for themselves,” Dave said.

The ballot count party was a snapshot of the ongoing labor revival: worker- and youth-led campaigns, supported by organized labor and flanked by socialists and community supporters. This is not your father’s labor movement.

We Don’t Hate Starbucks, Just Union Busting

Workers also expressed animosity towards the recent encounter between Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and a barista. At a meeting between workers and management in Long Beach, CA, Schultz told barista and organizer Madison Hall “If you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you go somewhere else?”

Boston baristas fired back, highlighting how they love their jobs, their regulars, and their coworkers. 

“I was deeply insulted by the statement. Our partners, our coworkers — we are not just friends, we are family,” added Maria Suevo. “I ride for these people. The fact that trying to support each other and uplift each other is something I would leave behind… I don’t want to leave that. So no, I don’t hate Starbucks.”

“Understand this, Howard Schultz,” Daguerre added. “Workers don’t want NFTs. They want you to sign the fair elections principles, and they would like you to stop union busting.” Schultz announced last week that Starbucks would launch NFTs by the end of the year.

What’s Next?

Workers at the Allston and Coolidge Corner stores will now join workers from the Buffalo, Seattle, Ithaca, and Arizona locations in a national bargaining committee. 

How bargaining will play out is an open question as our labor revival reaches uncharted waters. We should remember that 50 percent of unions which win an election never secure a first contract. Even under a worker-friendly NLRB, companies can delay bargaining in bad faith with minimal repercussions.

Starbucks’ initial attempts at union busting have almost entirely failed to deter worker organizing. But we should expect an escalation of anti-union tactics as Starbucks workers near their first contract. 

Friendly labor laws are helpful. But the only reliable force for labor victory is a fighting labor movement. We can wish Starbucks Workers United an easy contract fight, but we should prepare for a tough one. Steps to strengthen bargaining can include continuing to organize new stores, strengthening national leadership and coordination, raising a large solidarity fund, and continuing to build in-roads with community groups, politicians, unions, and customers.

For now, socialists and community supporters should turn their attention to helping other Massachusetts stores secure victories in their upcoming elections.

Click here to sign the Massachusetts DSA Labor petition in support of Starbucks workers, and our organizers will let you know about upcoming events.

Henry De Groot is a former barista, editor of Working Mass, and a Boston DSA member.

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