Victory After Historic Boston Starbucks Strike

By Eli Gerzon

Starbucks workers at 874 Commonwealth Ave have declared victory after the corporation folded on their minimum availability requirements and agreed to investigate a problematic manager,  major issues of the strike. This victory comes 64 days into the historic strike, the longest Starbucks strike in US history. 

The victory shows that unionized Starbucks stores can deliver positive changes to working conditions, even as the movement still struggles to win a first contract.

“I want it to be known that this is a win for workers everywhere. We’re setting precedents. We are making known the power that unions have.” said Spencer Costigan, shift manager at 874 Comm Ave. 

Victory on Working Conditions with National Ramifications

Starbucks has admitted that “under federal law” unionized workers are protected from the minimum availability requirement they imposed on all workers earlier this year. This is according to a flier posted in Starbucks stores in the Greater Boston area on Sunday, September 18th. This minimum availability requirement was a primary reason for the strike at 874 Comm Ave and in Watertown, MA. The requirement has been used as an excuse to fire Starbucks organizers across the country. The mention of federal law seems to indicate this applies across the US, but workers outside of Greater Boston have not reported seeing this flier. 

The flier reads in part:

“The minimum availability requirements does not apply to stores who had union representation or union organizing activity on or before July 11, 2022…. Under federal law, Starbucks is required to maintain the status quo and bargain in good faith over any terms and conditions of employment in stores with union representation.”

The workers’ press release also talks about the issue of store manager Tomi Chorlian who they allege has been misogynistic and transphobic among other issues. “We have also received confirmation from our District Manager, Phil Mann, as of yesterday (9/20/22) that he is actively seeking a replacement for Ms. Chorlian. Mr. Mann has also agreed to involve us in the investigation of Ms. Chorlian’s workplace behavior. We trust that Mr. Mann will help us return to a workplace free of our former Store Manager, Tomi Chorlian, and we especially look forward to taking part in her investigation.”

The picket line at 874 Commonwealth Ave was maintained for 24 hours/day for over 2 months by the Starbucks workers from the store as well as supporters from other unions, socialists organizations, and other community members. Supporting this strike has been a priority of Boston DSA and other DSA chapters around the state. 

When Working Mass asked Spencer about the role of the DSA they said: “I mean, the DSA was one of the first people to be out there helping us out. A lot of DSA members were there from day 1 to day 64. Every single day, just making sure that things were running smoothly. I think that the DSA is one of the most important groups that was involved personally.”

Workers Didn’t Realize They Were Facing Unfair Labor Practices

Kylah Clay has worked at other Starbucks stores in the Boston area but has been focusing on supporting Starbucks workers in organizing. Working Mass asked her about how she first got involved with 874 Comm Ave. 

Clay was invited to a meeting with workers at 874 Comm Ave and they shared their frustrations. She immediately realized they were dealing with unfair labor practices and explained that to them.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of unfair labor practices go unrecognized by workers, because that is how the system thrives by making sure that workers are not empowered to exercise the rights that have been given to them.” Clay then went into specifics about 874:

“So the biggest one was when they told me that [store manager] Tomi [Chorlian] had changed their hours without negotiating their minimum availability requirement. Because obviously, a unionized store has the legal requirement to bargain before implementing new workplace policies like this – which is exactly what Starbucks conceded to recently.”

Clay offered various ideas for how to address the workers’ concerns. “And as I was explaining the different options available to them: walking on a march on the boss or a walkout. The last option I raised was a strike and immediately, a bunch of people, unmuted and they’re like, ‘Yeah, strike! Yeah, strike!’” From there they began planning and started the strike on July 18th, 2022. 

Frustrations

Across the country Starbucks has been breaking laws, defying the NLRB, delaying contract negotiations, and taking many actions where the primary motivation seems to frustrate workers. Working Mass asked workers at 874 Comm Ave if they’ve had any experiences like that.

Clay said, “everything about this has been frustrating every day, the fact that [Starbucks district manager] Phil [Mann] would never even answer our calls.”

Taylor Dickerson, another worker at 874 Comm Ave, chimed in, “Right? I mean, literally, it’s just, it’s so ridiculous that I don’t even know how to express it.”

“Yesterday, we were taking turns calling Phil every hour. So basically Taylo r[Dickerson], Nora [Rossi], and I were like, ‘Alright, I’ll call him twice.’ And then I’ll be like, ‘Okay, didn’t get an answer.’ And then Taylor would be like, ‘Okay, my turn.’ And then Nora’s turn.”

They said when they were able to talk with Mann he wouldn’t follow up. And often when they spoke with him it was as if they were “starting fresh as if we’ve never had a conversation before,” according to Dickerson. 

Clay and Dickerson also expressed frustration that Mann was their only point of contact at Starbucks despite the historic nature of their strike and the fact that it was clearly part of a wider movement. 

Dickerson explained, “Even if you just want to isolate it to Massachusetts, we had five stores go on strike for an entire week [first week of August in response to higher pay raises for only non unionized workers]. You think that would kind of raise the alarm for higher ups and make them want to talk to us. But no, they never did.”

Going Forward

When asked how they feel, Spencer said, “I feel tired.” They then laughed and went on, “I feel good…I think that things have been very inspiring to me on a lot of levels. The fact that we got a win when everything was pitted against us. Billions and billions of dollars…. All of the things that were working against us, we overcame them. And it just is very surreal that we managed to pull one over on this literal billion dollar multinational company at just like a little store in fucking Boston. It feels wild.”

Asked what final thing Costigan wanted to share, they declared: 

“Workers of the world unite!”

Eli Gerzon is a freelance writer, social media consultant, gardener, and Tarot card reader. They are an active member of Boston DSA and Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston. 

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