Gen Z fights for unions, one Starbucks at a time

© Michael Sanabria Baristas in Buffalo hope to unionise five Starbucks cafes

Stressful working conditions, a lack of training, and slim hopes of a pay rise are just some of the things that anger Jaz Brisack, 24, about working at Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, USA.

Yet it was the “inability to negotiate as equals” with the coffee giant that pushed the barista and about 80 of her colleagues to do something out of the ordinary last month: call for a vote to form a union.

Currently none of Starbucks’ 8,000 US cafes is unionised, meaning the world’s biggest coffee house chain is under no obligation to negotiate with staff over pay and conditions. But the baristas hope to change that at five cafes in Buffalo, setting a precedent that could disrupt the firm’s business practices much more widely.

“Starbucks likes to say they don’t consider us employees, they consider us ‘partners’, but we have no power in that partnership,” says Ms Brisack, who is part of the employees’ organising committee, Starbucks Workers United.

“But if we can build actual worker power for baristas, then we can change not just Starbucks and make it the best it can be, but help make the whole services industry better.”

  • The woman who took on Google and won
  • Official recommends rerun in Amazon union fight

The campaign at Starbucks is just the latest example of a resurgence in US labour activism after decades of decline. Politics, pandemic-related frustrations, and younger, more engaged workers are driving the change.

In 2021 alone, employees from Amazon warehouse staff to New York museum curators have sought to unionise for the first time, while there have been months-long strikes by coal miners in Alabama and grocery workers at food giant Mondelez International.

Ms Brisack and her colleagues – all whom are under 30 – have applied to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold elections at the cafes in the coming months and think they have comfortable majorities to win. But Starbucks, they say, is doing everything it can to stop them.

© Michael Sanabria Organising committee members Alexis Rizzo, Jaz Brisack, Brian Murray, Kayla Sterner, Cory Johnson and Rose Doherty

The chain has hired law firm Littler Mendelsohn – famed for its “union busting” efforts at other big corporations – as an advisor. Regional managers have turned up at the Buffalo cafes “without warning” – including Starbucks’ president for North America, Rossann Williams – and held “anti-union” focus groups on company time, it is claimed.

It has left would-be union representatives feeling “spied on” as they try to sign colleagues up during break times, the only time they’re permitted to do so.

“What most companies do is make this a vote not about whether you want a union but whether you want to keep your job,” says Richard Bensinger of Workers United, the union with which the baristas hope to affiliate. “They dominate the campaign.”

Starbucks denies the claims, saying it holds around 2,000 listening sessions – or “Partner Open Forums” – a year and that it’s not unusual for senior leaders to show up at cafes to discuss worker concerns.

The firm is also one of the more generous and socially progressive in the US services sector – something the baristas acknowledge. It offers perks like free university tuition for staff, and in 2018, closed all its cafes to conduct racial bias training.

Yet while Starbucks says it “respects” the baristas’ right to organise, the company also said it feels that it is “unnecessary” for them to unionise given its “pro-partner environment”.

© Getty Images Union membership fell sharply under US President Ronald Reagan

Rich history

The US has a rich history of labour organising dating back to the industrial revolution, and by the late 1960s more than a third of all US workers were union members. But that began to decline in the 1970s as manufacturing – the traditional backbone of US labour – moved offshore, and the Republican party under Ronald Reagan turned against unionism.

Many Republican states have since brought in “right to work” laws that weaken unions, while increasingly large corporations use their “vast resources” to quell organising efforts, says Dan Cornfield, an expert in unionism at Vanderbilt University.

But things are changing, he says.

Last year, the union membership rate edged up for the first time in years to 10.8%, while Gallup estimated 65% of all Americans approved of unions, the highest in over two decades.

Dr Cornfield says the election of Joe Biden – who has promised to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen” – has brought organised labour back into the mainstream, while a “new vanguard” of younger educated professionals is driving change.

“Unionism is not just for blue collar workers anymore,” he says. “Younger workers in the service sector and some white collar occupations are calling for greater transparency from their employers, not just on pay but also issues like sexual harassment and racial justice.”

Recent examples include the disgruntled Google engineers who unionised in January; a wave of successful campaigns at non-profit organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union; and a new nurses’ union at the Mission Hospital in North Carolina, one of the most anti-union states in the US.

The pandemic has put a fire under such efforts, after workers were abruptly laid off or had their hours or pay cut. Concerns about Covid safety measures also spurred walkouts at major names like McDonalds, Fiat Chrysler and the retailer Target.

“The pandemic showed workers that their very lives depended on having their own voice,” says Mr Bensinger.

© Reuters The union vote in Bessemer attracted widespread attention in the US

Some of the newly unionised have already seen pay rises. Yet not all recent campaigns have succeeded. In April, Amazon easily defeated the first ever attempt to unionise one of its warehouses, in Bessemer, Alabama, with about 1,800 (71%) of workers voting against.

The shopping giant said it had listened to staff concerns and improved. It had also warned workers that the union would collect hundreds of dollars in dues without being able to deliver changes.

The NLRB has ordered a rerun after complaints of foul play by Amazon, but Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution says “the vote totals do not suggest the union organisers were remotely close to winning”.

He doesn’t expect a big shift towards unionism, saying most low-paid workers still prefer unions “in theory” rather than practice. Mr Biden also lacks strong enough working majorities in the House and Senate “to expect much action at the federal level,” Mr Burtless says.

In March, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a sweeping pro-union bill backed by the President, which would change the rules around union elections and stiffen penalties for employers who violate workers’ rights.

It comes after big firms – including Starbucks – were found to have illegally retaliated against employees who attempted to unionise.

Yet the PRO Act remains stalled in the Senate, along with attempts to raise the federal minimum wage to $15.

The Buffalo baristas are undeterred and have received support from Starbucks workers across the US, as well as politicians such as congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the left-wing star of the Democratic party.

William Westlake, another member of Buffalo organising committee, is sure unionism will grow.

“I think as we see increasing generational inequality then we’re naturally going to see more of a fight to improve outcomes for the same entry level positions,” he says.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related

OTHER NEWS

Canada's closer to having a U.S. ambassador — 2 years later

© Carolyn Kaste/The Associated Press David Cohen, a vice-president at telecommunications company Comcast, testifies before Congress in 2014. Cohen is U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next ambassador ... Read more »

Sajid Javid announces 730,000 doses of Covid drugs to be available on the NHS in bid to avoid plan B

Vulnerable patients who contract Covid-19 will be given antiviral drugs designed to keep them out of hospital and prevent a winter wave of the virus overwhelming the NHS. The UK ... Read more »

Rewild Your Life: How Modern Life Has Knocked Our Biology Out of Sync

Bear-hugging somebody you’ve never met is not natural, regardless of social-distancing rules. Certainly not in London, where you don’t even make eye contact with strangers. Yet, a little while before ... Read more »

UK banks' earnings season is tough one to call

© Provided by City AM Wall Street’s biggest banks have reaped the rewards of a booming deal environment, the release of loan loss reserves and swelling deposits. Goldman Sachs, Bank ... Read more »

Man United fans hope winning trend continues as referee makes long-awaited Old Trafford return

Manchester United will be hoping they can continue their winning form with Szymon Marciniak as the man in the middle. Atalanta are in town as the Italians look to extend ... Read more »

Bitcoin price prediction: BTC CAN'T reach $100,000 in 2021

Bitcoin (BTC) was the first cryptocurrency to meet all of the “landmark” value marks, debuting at $0 in 2009 and matching the US dollar for the first time in 2011. ... Read more »

California school district says kids must eat lunch in the rain due to COVID

Patwin Elementary School in California sent an email to parents telling them their children will be forced eat lunch outside. Google Maps A California school district sent an email to ... Read more »

Children 'skip meals' as their parents await entitlement to support

The concerns were aired during a parliamentary inquiry looking at how poverty affects children’s lives, particularly those who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) because their parents are awaiting ... Read more »

Exit inevitable, as Ancelotti convinces Real Madrid to sanction transfer Tottenham can't stop

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has agreed to rectify a transfer ‘mistake’ and will sanction a Tottenham raid at the behest of Carlo Ancelotti, claims a report. © Getty Images Carlo ... Read more »

'Class', 'Refreshing', 'Love this' - Many SAFC fans drool as 'mad' comments emerge

Sunderland fans were delighted with Leon Dajaku’s comments after the Black Cats’ 4-0 victory over Crewe Alexandra on Tuesday evening. © Provided by Transfer Tavern Leon Dajaku playing for Germany’s ... Read more »

New CEO appointed at nChain

© Provided by City AM Blockchain architect nChain has appointed Hakan Yuksel as Chief Executive Officer at the company headquarters in Zug, Switzerland. He replaces Dr David Washburn, who played ... Read more »

Four brothers kidnapped in Polokwane - reports

© Supplied The Moti brothers Zia (15), Alaan (13), Zayyad (11) and Zidan (6) were allegedly kidnapped in Polokwane on 20 October 2021 en route to school. JOHANNESBURG – The ... Read more »

NASA video hypes future of space travel: Sci-fi skydiving, kayaking

Ever dream of taking a vacation somewhere really, really far away — just really checking out of reality? Well, NASA wants that for you, too, evidently. The exploratory space agency ... Read more »

Apex Legends Reveals Glimpses of New Tropic Island Map

Respawn have begun sharing the first glimpses of the new Apex Legends map – Tropic Island. Apex Legends fans have been anxiously awaiting news for Season 11, and all of ... Read more »

TFT Set 6 Oct. 20 PBE patch nerfs Lux, tweaks Glutton

Day one of Set Six Gizmos and Gadgets on the PBE included wild Teamfight Tactics gameplay and a number of bugs that were addressed in the first patch notes.  © ... Read more »

Over 20 Activision Blizzard employees have ‘exited' the company following harassment lawsuit

Months after the bombshell sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against Activision Blizzard by the State of California, the company’s chief compliance officer Fran Townsend has said in a staff email ... Read more »

Saudi leader MBS seemingly open to discussing normalizing relations with Israel, but has conditions: report

© Bernd von Jutrczenka/Getty Images Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has faced global condemnation over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Bernd von Jutrczenka/Getty Images MBS was seemingly open to discussing normalizing ... Read more »

Xiaomi is launching the Redmi Note 11 and Redmi Watch 2 next week

The Redmi Note 10 series is barely a year old and now Xiaomi is about to reveal its new Redmi Note 11 series next week. This is the Chinese smartphone ... Read more »

TikTok star Tefi Pessoa went viral after admitting that she accidentally wore her dress incorrectly on the 'Dune' red carpet

© Provided by INSIDER Tefi Pessoa had a wardrobe malfunction at the UK “Dune” premiere. Eamonn M. McCormack / Stringer / Getty Images Influencer Tefi Pessoa interviewed stars of “Dune” ... Read more »

Pejuang tidak tandatangani MoU kerana bimbang wujud timbal balas

© Provided by Sinar Harian SHAH ALAM – Pendirian Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) untuk tidak menandatangani Memorandum Persefahaman (MoU) Transformasi dan Kestabilan Politik dengan kerajaan bukan disebabkan menganggap ia ... Read more »

The Sci-Fi Film That Deepens the Hero's Journey

© Warner Bros. Pictures Paul Atreides, the handsome young protagonist of Dune, is one of science fiction’s original chosen ones. His heroic journey from plucky teenager to feared warrior has ... Read more »

The Wellness Industry Has An Inclusivity Problem. Black Girls Healing House Is Changing That.

© Provided by Refinery29 When Delilah Antoinette found herself struggling with her mental health in 2017, she longed for a safe, Black space to unpack her experience. Unfortunately, she was ... Read more »

The Queen's Irish home that she hasn't visited in 5 years – inside

© Provided by Hello! the-queen-house The Queen may not be travelling anywhere at the moment after she “reluctantly accepted medical advice” and cancelled her trip to Northern Ireland, but it’s ... Read more »

Bronx crooks robbed state parole officer of service weapon: cops

Three crooks robbed an on-duty state parole officer in the Bronx this week — snatching his service weapon from its holster, authorities said. The officer was on Leland Avenue near ... Read more »

13 Best cordless vacuum cleaners 2021: from Shark to Dyson, our top stick vacuums

IT'S official, the world is turning wireless – the best cordless vacuum cleaners provide all the suction and efficiency of a standard vacuum, without annoying wires getting in the way. ... Read more »

Red Sox vs. Astros ALCS Game 5: Time, TV channel, how to watch, live stream, starting pitchers for Wednesday

After the Houston Astros rallied to even the American League Championship Series, the Boston Red Sox must regroup for Game 5 on Wednesday at Fenway Park. Boston took a 2-1 lead ... Read more »

Eagles designate Tyree Jackson, K'Von Wallace to return from IR

© Provided by NBC Sports After trading Zach Ertz to the Cardinals, the Eagles are getting some reinforcements at tight end as part of a series of Wednesday transactions. Philadelphia ... Read more »

U.S. moves to control sales of hacking tools abroad

FILE PHOTO: A computer keyboard lit by a displayed cyber code is seen in this illustration picture By Christopher Bing (Reuters) – The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday announced new ... Read more »

Honolulu shifting to victim-focused domestic violence prosecutions

Oct. 20—A 30-year-old policy that prevented Honolulu prosecutors from dropping domestic violence prosecutions no matter what a victim said is over, and law enforcement will partner with a local nonprofit ... Read more »

Make threatening deportation to coerce women a crime, says watchdog

There is widespread evidence of men using their partners’ insecure immigration status to control and threaten them, leading to calls for immigration abuse to become a form of domestic violence ... Read more »

‘This is just the start': Prince William ready to unleash Earthshot Prize onto the US

The Duke of Cambridge shared intimate behind-the-scenes photographs of himself and the Duchess backstage at this year’s awards – Chris Jackson for The Royal Foundation The Duke of Cambridge is ... Read more »

Cardi B has hearing Monday in assault case, could face 4 years in prison

Rap superstar to revisit 2018 incident when she allegedly threw a bottle at two sister bartenders at a strip club in Flushing, New York. Rap star Cardi B has a ... Read more »

US outlines plans for vaccinating children against COVID-19

© Provided by Al Jazeera The US is awaiting approval from federal agencies to begin the roll out of COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 [File: Mary Altaffer/The ... Read more »

Emraan Hashmi's Dybbuk trailer out. Nikita Dutta unleashes an evil spirit in the horror film

Emraan Hashmi and Nikita Dutta’s Dybbuk is the Hindi remake of the Malayalam film Ezra. Amazon Prime Video dropped the trailer of its horror-thriller, Dybbuk -The Curse Is Real today, ... Read more »

Prosecutors appeal after 'Hotel Rwanda' hero jailed

© Simon Wohlfahrt Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide, was convicted on terror charges by a high court in Kigali Rwandan prosecutors said ... Read more »

Kenya lifts longstanding COVID curfew as infections ease

© Provided by Al Jazeera Kenya’s President Kenyatta addresses the nation during the Mashujaa Day celebrations to honour those who contributed to the country’s independence struggle [Monicah Mwangi/Reuters] Kenya has ... Read more »

Popular Atlanta Mixologist Dies After She's Robbed and Thrown from Moving Lamborghini

A Georgia man is in custody following the unusual death of a beloved Atlanta-area mixologist. © Provided by People Facebook On Oct. 11, a witness called 911 to report that ... Read more »

Rich Homeowners Have Endangered Hawaii's Beaches With Sand Burritos. The State Is Cracking Down.

by Sophie Cocke, Honolulu Star-Advertiser This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which was a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network ... Read more »

Covid live: Russia to close workplaces; Singapore records highest daily death toll since start of pandemic

LIVE – Updated at 17:13 © Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images Servicemen of Russia’s emergencies ministry wearing protective gear disinfect Moscow’s Belorussky railway station. Vladimir Putin approves week-long workplace shutdown; Singapore ... Read more »

Punish me instead: Priyanka Gandhi after policewomen face probe for clicking selfie with her

Lucknow Police Commissioner Dhruva Kant Thakur has ordered a preliminary probe against the policewomen seen clicking a selfie with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), ... Read more »