Organizing Starbucks has long been deemed too difficult to be worth sinking the time and effort into. The turnover rate and corporate culture of Starbucks were reasons given to explain the exhausted efforts to unionize in the past. The UFCW campaign in 1985 and the IWW campaign in 2004 helped lay the groundwork for the Workers United campaign of today, but none of these campaigns had managed to reach such success on a widespread scale. The fight for first contract is still a bitter struggle at this point but what the movement currently has to its advantage is numbers and victories. As of June 13th, there are 286 locations filed for elections across the country with 145 election victories. There are unionized Starbucks locations popping up in cities big and small and across the country from the corporation’s home in the Pacific Northwest through the Rocky Mountains, Texas, the Midwest, and across the east coast through the south.
While most unions aspire to be worker driven, the Workers United campaign owes its success to the rank & file who are the ones taking the risks necessary to build the movement. Workers United staff are devoted and determined to support the campaign in whatever ways they can, but most of the organizing work continues to be done by Starbucks employees. Many are new to the concepts of unions and organizing a workplace but also have deeper connections to the service industry and their coworkers. At the same time, many are experienced in organizing or community building though other organizations and lend their skills to the movement. This is part of what has provided so much of the movement’s widespread appeal. There are unanimous election results coming from tight-knit crews in various parts of the country. As well, community support from the customer base at many locations has proved to be a significant boost for the organizing baristas and the movement. Thousands of customers who grab their daily coffee are working class or even enthusiastic union members.
Rather than a simple shop to shop strategy, city-wide and national organizing has proven extraordinarily successful. Some cites have 20+ corporate locations centralized within a small area. The work of organizing can be shared among a community of stores more effectively. The different plans and strategies that have worked up to this point are being coordinated and standardized. With trained teams taking on the task of organizing major sectors of the market, there are big plans for this coming summer and fall. Starbucks baristas across the country are meeting and coordinating toward a common goal against the bosses on an unprecedented scale.
Buffalo, NY, and the organizers who won the initial campaign victories remained the de facto HQ early on, but the rapid growth on a national scale propelled the movement to coordinate more broadly across the country through email, zoom meetings and recently a single national Discord. This is the groundwork for a union that seeks to defend the rights of Starbucks workers for generations to come. After some delay, a strike fund has been established by Workers United to the tune of $1,000,000. After rampant union-busting and organizer terminations such as the firing of the Memphis 7 in February, the movement has woken from any notions that unions and contracts can be won simply through spectacle and negotiations. More than twenty-five strikes have occurred and are spreading. Entire new sections of the US economy are realizing they hold the collective power to build a new era of unions and a class-conscious generation.