On Monday, January 17, 2011, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while baristas at the Astor Place Starbucks in Manhattan were declaring their membership in the IWW, members of the IWW and supporters descended on Starbucks throughout the United States to wish baristas a happy Martin Luther King day. As part of these greetings, IWW organizers informed baristas of the recent victory won by IWW Starbucks baristas in securing time-and-one-half holiday premium for working on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The victory came after a spirited three-year initiative of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) which made public the company’s second-class treatment of Dr. King’s birthday and called on the coffee giant to pay the same premium that it pays workers on six other federal holidays. After Starbucks refused to change its policy, union workers and their supporters launched a determined campaign of grassroots actions in Starbucks stores and communities all across the country in support of equal treatment for MLK Day. (For more information, see related article: Starbucks Baristas Win Equal Treatment for MLK Day After Three Year Union Fight.
IWW members visited Starbucks and talked with baristas in the following cities:
Astor Place was not the only center of IWW activity in New York City; at least one supporter distributed leaflets at two Starbucks in the Morningside area and one in Harlem. A member of the Atlanta, Georgia IWW reports, “We had a good canvas of downtown hitting all the major stores. As well we rode outside the metro Atlanta area, we even hit up their regional training facility. None of the stores had any managers working and we had good conversations with all the Batista’s we talked to. One store the workers were unaware that they were to receive holiday pay but most of the stores had just found out when they punched in for that day. All and I think it was a good day, and I think that the bosses will be surprised.”
IWW members visited five Starbucks in the Cleveland, Ohio, and spoke with and gave flyers to nine baristas.
IWW members hit as many stores as they could find in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.
A lone IWW member in the Homer, Louisiana area (where there are no Starbucks, yet) discussed the Starbucks / IWW campaign with the local NAACP march and was warmly received.
IWW members, who are planning an upcoming organizer training, visited five Starbucks in the Miami, Florida area. In Phoenix, Arizona, the Saturday before MLK day, five IWWs (rotating in pairs) visited ten Starbucks stores in Phoenix, with their own locally made flier. During their outing, they all made a point of discussing the holiday pay for MLK day, and this was well received by the baristas.
An IWW member in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has been speaking with baristas for a while about the MLK holiday, went to three stores in the area. In the greater San Francisco Bay Area, where there are at least 100 Starbucks, three teams of at least two (and usually three) members each visted over two dozen Starbucks in Albany, Berkeley, Concord, Emeryville, El Cerrito, Richmond, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, and many of the nearby municipalities. Members from the San Jose (fifty miles south of San Francisco) and Sacramento (seventy-five miles northeast of San Francisco) area announce their intent to leaflet some Starbucks as well. In all cases, the workers were positive and receptive, and at least one Starbucks barista contacted us with the following message: “I just wanted to give a sincere thanks to the folks who fought for holiday pay on MLK day. Two starbucks union members came into my San Francisco store that day to congratulate us and gave us a flyer with some info about the victory. I was a little caught off guard (we were busy!) and I wasn’t aware that this was the first year of starbucks recognizing MLK day as holiday. I do appreciate them coming around and giving us that information. Thank you!”
In Seattle, Washington, members of the Seattle Solidarity Federation reported, “deep in the belly of the Starbucks beast, (five) SeaSolers went out to eight Starbucks here in Seattle. We visited four Starbucks downtown, two in Capitol Hill, one in First Hill and one in the Central District and gave out somewhere around 25 flyers. Conversations went pretty well, if a bit brief at the busier locations. Baristas at a Starbucks in the Central District / Rainier Valley area location were very excited, to the point of shouting, high-fiving and in one case, executing a small leap for joy. Some workers already knew they were getting paid time and a half but hadn’t known why and seemed interested or surprised to hear it was because workers fought long and hard to win the holiday. Workers in another location … were very friendly to us and thought it was a great victory … All in all, it was an unseasonably beautiful day and a successful mission.”
Three members together in Washington, DC visted five Starbucks and also distributed leaflets for an upcoming workplace organizing training.
Also, members and/or supporters from Columbia, South Carolina and Roseburg, Oregon expressed interest in participating in the campaign. No doubt IWW members from many other locations took action as well (though we haven’t reports of their efforts to share here).
All in all, the effort was a huge success. Workers awere positive and appreciative, and it shows that solidarity unionism and international solidarity is still a very effective strategy.
The Industrial Workers of the World union effort at Starbucks is the first time a labor organization in the United States has succeeded in building a base of organized baristas at the company. With over 300 worker-organizers across the country and growing, the SWU has consistently chalked up victories at Starbucks including across-the-board raises, more secure work hours, and respectful treatment from previously abusive managers whose conduct improved due to union pressure campaigns. The SWU has repeatedly prevailed against Starbucks in the legal arena across multiple cities including in a lengthy New York City trial over pervasive illegal union-busting, the first time the company had to square off against baristas in open court regarding unfair labor practices.
The IWW Starbucks campaign is just beginning. If you are a barista at Starbucks, or if you are a worker at any unorganized workplace, including especially a major chain or fastfood franchise, we want to hear from you. Contact us by visiting any of the links listed at the end of this article.