Starbucks Workers Union Expands to Maryland in Spite of Harsh Anti-Union Effort

Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:02pm -- SWU

Starbucks Workers Union Expands to Maryland in Spite of Harsh Anti-Union Effort

Barista Struggle for Fair Wages and Secure Hours Extends Across Three States

January 19, 2007

Rockville, Maryland- Employees at a Starbucks store here announced their membership in the IWW Starbucks Workers Union [www.StarbucksUnion.org] today and served a list of demands on their manager including a living wage, secure work hours, and the reinstatement of union baristas illegally fired for organizing activity.  The action marks the expansion of the SWU to a third state- baristas began joining the union in New York City and the campaign grew to Chicago last August.  Starbucks cafes were completely non-union in the United States before the Industrial Workers of the World initiated its organizing drive in 2004.

"No worker should have to deal with understaffing on one hand and the inability to get enough work hours on the other," said Seth Dietz, one of the Maryland baristas who declared his union membership. "Only an independent voice on the job will win baristas the respect we deserve and that's why the expansion of the organization to Maryland is so gratifying."  

The union believes that consistent pressure applied against the company at Starbucks locations, in the community, and in the public arena has resulted in higher wages and more steady work hours for baristas.  After about two and half years of organizing, many NYC baristas saw their wage increase almost 25%. The SWU has also remedied individual grievances with the company in areas as diverse as sleep-depriving work schedules, unsanitary working conditions, and abusive managers.  The campaign has captivated imaginations around the world with support for the baristas coming from Europe, Korea, and New Zealand, among other places.  

Despite the union gains, Starbucks workers still start at a poverty wage in the $7 or $8 per hour range and no baristas are permitted full-time status.  While Starbucks frequently touts its health care offering, the company insures just 42% of its workforce- less than Wal-Mart, a company notorious for its poor health care benefits.

"Starbucks public relations prowess won't change the fact that many baristas live in poverty and the majority are not covered by company health care," said Laura De Anda, an SWU member recently fired from an NYC Starbucks for union activity.  "As members of the Industrial Workers of the World, baristas are not silenced anymore by Starbucks' fake socially responsible image."

Starbucks and its Chairman Howard Schultz have come under increasing criticism from unions and human rights groups over labor abuses against baristas and coffee farmers.  In March 2006, the company entered into a settlement agreement with the National Labor Relations Board over unfair labor practice charges from the SWU.  The company had to reinstate two workers discharged for organizing activity and rescind national policies against sharing written union information and wearing union pins.  

After the settlement agreement, the coffee giant has continued union-busting with impunity in a bid to destroy the SWU.  Six SWU baristas are currently out of a job in retaliation for their union activity.  Company threats, surveillance, and propaganda continue full steam ahead.  Instead of moving toward substantive respect for workers, the company has responded to its increasingly vocal critics with more public relations efforts including full-page ads in the New York Times defending its benefits and the slick but hollow website www.whatmakescoffeegood.com.

"If Starbucks respects employees right to join a union, a Caramel Frappuccino is an authentic Italian coffee drink," quipped New York City barista and SWU member Pete Montalbano.  "Howard Schultz and Starbucks need to face the fact that we're here, we're growing, and we have a right to exist."

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