By Agnes Smedley
Picketing in the Heat
Brookline– The doors are locked and the lights are off at the Starbucks at 874 Commonwealth Ave across from Boston University, as the workers strike until further notice. Working Mass joined Starbucks workers braving 90-degree temperatures on the picket line in front of the store on Wednesday, the third day of the strike. The workers, organized with Starbucks Workers United, officially announced the strike in a letter to management on Monday, July 18, but had already staged a sick-out the previous day.
Workers are prepared to strike for at least a week even as a massive heat wave brings high-90s temperatures to the Boston area, putting the hot in #HotLaborSummer.
The Brookline strike is part of a national strike wave of unionized Starbucks stores in the past two weeks in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Denver, Boston, Seattle, Everett, Chicago, Clinton Township, MI and Cottonwood Heights, UT.
On Tuesday workers increased the pressure, organizing a rally with an estimated 40 people present including many community supporters. At the rally the workers had a large cake to jokingly celebrate Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s birthday, and asked why he has not yet come to the bargaining table.
Nora Rossi, a shift manager at the store told Working Mass that many of the supporters have been members of other unions. Some members from Starbucks Workers United at other stores have also come out to support. There is a core group of workers who have been holding the line, while other workers who are also students and therefore in classes have rotated in and out when they can. And many passers-by have been expressing their support, including by donating to the strike fund and dropping off water and other supplies.
Pushing Back on Unfair Treatment
The Brookline store voted to unionize in June, and shortly thereafter they were assigned a new store manager.
The manager started cutting hours for employees and said there wasn’t enough work, all while hiring five new workers. Workers at the picket line said that up through Monday when they went on strike, the manager was still interviewing candidates. Worker organizers have gotten in contact with 2 out of the 5 new hires, but don’t have contact with the last three.
Once we unionized we realized that we can help ourselves, we can make this happen ourselves, we have that power now, we’re protected.Nora Rossi, shift manager and member of Starbucks Workers United
In their letter, workers claim the manager, Toni Chorlian, has unilaterally changed the schedule with no notice. Under the National Labor Relations Act, management in a unionized workplace must bargain “in good faith” with a recognized union before making changes to certain mandatory subjects of bargaining, including wages and hours. Making changes to mandatory subjects of bargaining without bargaining “in good faith” is considered an unfair labor practice.
The demands of the strike center around resolving the alleged illegal threats of termination, union busting through scheduling, and call to removes the new manager who workers allege has made racist and transphobic remarks and actions.
“The way we’ve been talked to by management and otherwise has been very demoralizing, and it’s been very hard on everyone at the store. On top of having our hours cut and being understaffed we were run ragged physically, it’s also an emotional toll every day,” said Rossi.
“We decided we cannot do this another day, we have to do something. We’d been kind of waiting for a while, like, somebody help us, somebody do something, somebody help us, and once we unionized we realized that we can help ourselves, we can make this happen ourselves, we have that power now, we’re protected.”
What will it take to win?
The newly unionized workers do have many more legal rights and collective power now that they are unionized and on strike. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to stop unfair labor practices and bring Howard Shultz to the national bargaining table.
The Brookline workers said that they need continued support from the local community and are asking for two things: donations to their strike fund so that they can continue to make rent and strike until their demands are met, and for supporters to sign up for morning and overnight shifts to hold the picket line in order to stop deliveries.
Deliveries are usually made between 3-5 in the afternoon, but the company is able to change the delivery time of the Teamsters-staffed logistics companies to arrive in the middle of the night. Teamsters are contractually protected against crossing picket lines, but only if the picket line is physically in place. If the delivery workers show up at 1 am with deliveries and there’s no picket line, they won’t have a “legitimate” reason to say they couldn’t deliver.
State Representative and Boston DSA member Erika Uyterhoven joined an overnight picket line shift at 9:00 pm Wednesday night and urged supporters to sign up for a shift to block deliveries.
The nationally coordinated strike wave at Starbucks demonstrates the fighting mood of these newly-unionized workers. In struggle, the workers are realizing their collective power.
But will one store on strike in Boston be enough to get the manager fired? Or do Boston café workers need to follow Seattle’s lead by having all Boston area cafes striking at the same time? Whatever the answer, socialists and community supporters will be there every step of the way!
Agnes Smedley is a member of Boston DSA and a coffee worker at a local Boston coffee chain, writing under a pen-name to protect their on-going organizing efforts