NEW YORK, NY –On this the 25th anniversary of Dr. King’s holiday, baristas at the Astor Place Starbucks in Manhattan declared their membership in the 105 year old union the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a staunch and outspoken defender of workers’ rights including the right to a living wage and the right to join a labor union.
The baristas represent the latest group of workers at the coffee giant to join the ongoing struggle for a living wage, more consistent scheduling, more affordable health insurance, and to be treated with basic respect and dignity by management. “I am proud to join the growing ranks of retail workers organizing together in the largest and least organized sector of our economy and at a company that has created thousands of low-wage jobs,” expressed Astor Place barista Zelig Stern.
In the last year, baristas in Omaha, Nebraska and Ft. Worth, Texas have also joined the IWW Starbucks Workers Union (SWU), showing that workers’ concerns with the company are far-reaching.
“We would just like to be treated like human beings and not machines,” said union barista and Astor Place employee Cason Bolton, Jr. in reference to Starbucks’ latest initiative toward mimicking the factory assembly-line, the “Beverage Repeatable Routine.”
Today the workers delivered a collectively written demand letter to the management of the Astor Place Starbucks. Their demands included a one dollar per an hour raise across the board for all store employees. While the company’s total net revenue for FY 2010 increased by 9.5% to $10.7 billion, according to the company’s Financial Report for Nov. 4, 2010, many of the retail location employees aren’t able to make ends meet with their low Starbucks wages and are forced to live below the poverty line, many requiring public assistance.
Ex-Manager turned Union Organizer, Claudio Anzalone has seen the company move further and further from its employees-first mantra from when he started his career at Starbucks over ten years ago. “I feel great regret that Starbucks partners now need a union to protect their job and human dignity, but we do,” said Mr. Anzalone.
Another demand from the workers is the immediate reinstatement of wrongfully fired union barista Catherine Arredondo, who the union feels was targeted by the company once they found out she had attended a union meeting. Ms. Arredondo assured her co-workers that she’s sticking with the Union, saying, “I’m going to stay and fight because I want my coworkers to know that organizing a union is the right thing to do.”
Workplace democracy is a large focus for the workers. Union workers at Astor Place feel strongly that each worker should have a voice in decisions regarding the day to day operations of the store, since they are the people most directly affected by these decisions. “We’re all humans and we should be treated as such, above everything else,” said Kayla Halstead, another union barista that works at the Astor Place Starbucks location. Union worker, Princess McLawrence, sites a very personal connection to organizing when she said, “I joined the IWW Starbucks Union in an attempt to regain, by force, the part of myself that I have lost since I first started at Slavebux.”
The IWW Starbucks Workers Union is a grassroots organization composed entirely of current and former Starbucks employees who have fought for respect, security, affordable health care and a living wage since 2004. Working together, SWU members have improved working conditions for Starbucks employees and won legal victories against unfair labor practices.