NORTHAMPTON — For most of the drivers picking up coffee from Starbucks on a rainy Monday morning, it’s usually a quick in-and-out trip.
But this week, customers at the King Street Starbucks location were greeted by protesters outside handing out leaflets and holding signs decrying the way the coffee giant has treated its workers across the country.
“Starbucks stop union busting,” one sign read. “Starbucks’ customers support workers’ right to organize,” read another.
The action was part of an “adopt-a-store” campaign that the union Starbucks Workers United organized nationwide. The union, which has organized more than 340 stores and 8,500 Starbucks workers since December 2021, called on customers and allies to choose a store — unionized or not — and distribute flyers outside to let people know “about all of the ways the company is mistreating workers.”
In Northampton, the Western Mass Area Labor Federation organized workers and activists from around the region to leaflet on Monday at the King Street store, which is not unionized. Ian Rhodewalt, the WMALF’s field organizer, told The Shoestring that the coalition of more than 60 western Mass unions was standing in support of workers’ right to unionize.
“It shows workers interested in new organizing that so many unions in the region have their back,” he said. “And when they face union busting, we will come out and support them.”
And there have been plenty of allegations of union-busting against Starbucks as workers in other locations across the country organize and struggle for better wages and working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board has issued 100 complaints against Starbucks alleging a wide variety of labor-law violations, from firing union-organizing employees to refusing to sit down at the table with workers.
In a statement, a Starbucks corporate spokesperson said that the company continues to defend itself against allegations of retaliation and union busting that it believes are “unfounded.” (On Wednesday, in one of those cases, the NLRB ruled that Starbucks broke the law when it fired a Michigan worker for her union activity.)
“Our policies exist to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for our partners and customers, and strictly prohibit any retaliatory behavior directed toward partners who are interested in a union,” the statement read. “Nevertheless, interest in a union does not exempt partners from following established policies and procedures. Corrective actions, up to and including separation, follow clear and progressive policy violations.”
The spokesperson for Starbucks, which the NLRB has accused of failing to bargain at 163 stores, said that Starbucks Workers United is engaged in “publicity stunts” and is refusing to sit down for “single-store” bargaining sessions.
Those single-store bargaining sessions have been a point of contention for the union, which has called on the company to come to the table to bargain a nation-wide contract, not hundreds of separate contracts. The company has insisted that each individual store’s workers negotiate their own contract — a process that Workers United has said could be an effort to complicate and elongate the bargaining process.
The protesters at the King Street Starbucks on Monday came from across the labor movement in the Connecticut River Valley, including the Massachusetts Nurses Association, United Food and Commercial Workers, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice and others. In total, protesters showed up to 332 stores in 32 states for the day of action, according to Starbucks Workers United.
Woody Hoagland, a crew member at the Hadley Trader Joe’s grocery store, was one of those in attendance.
“It’s just important to show it’s a fight bigger than any small group of people,” Hoagland told The Shoestring.
Karin Baker, another protester, said that it might be discouraging to see how long it is taking Starbucks to negotiate with its unionized workers, but that those workers have lit a spark for others thinking about organizing.
“It’s inspiring to everyone,” Baker said. “Any time a place gets a contract it helps everybody, whether you’re in a union or not.”
Stephanie Higgins was standing near the Starbucks drive-thru and said that customers were reacting well to the presence of protesters.
“We’ve had quite a few people say they’re in support and take flyers,” Higgins said.
For Ron Patenaude, a union rep with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the reason for showing up on Monday was simple.
“Just the solidarity is worth it,” he said.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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