Celebrating Six Months of IWW Starbucks Workers Union in the Twin Cities

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Celebrating six months of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union in the Twin Cities
by Erik Forman & Aaron Kocher
Feb. 2, 09
On a freezing but bright Minnesota morning, on Jan. 8, baristas gathered
on the sidewalk in front of the Franklin and Nicollet Starbucks in
Mittens clutched the splintery handles of picket signs. The baristas
started to chant, “Starbucks Union, here to stay; these lattes are union
Almost six months prior, in the first public action of the IWW Starbucks
Workers Union in Minnesota, baristas at the Mall of America Starbucks
had stopped work to protest the closure of 600 stores. A week earlier,
barista Erik Forman had been fired for discussing unionization with his
peers. Despite the firing, the idea stuck, and baristas at the Franklin
and Nicollet Starbucks soon joined their fellow workers at the Mall of
America as public union members.
After six months the growth of the union was evident as workers from
several Minneapolis locations came together to give Starbucks a “Big
Review.” Standing almost 6 feet tall, the “Review” was indeed “Big.”
Aside from the tongue-in-cheek wordplay, the action had special meaning
for Starbucks workers.
One union barista ex-plained, “Normally, baristas are nervous about
getting their reviews. Management always finds some way to devalue our
hard work. The most you get for a raise is 30 cents. Most people aren’t
so lucky, getting 20 cents or less. It doesn’t nearly keep up with the
cost of living, but there’s not much you can docommunication is one way.
We started a union in order to have a voice, and this action shows us
talking back.”
Over the last two weeks, the Twin Cities Starbucks Workers Union
gathered input from baristas locally and across the U.S. through an
online survey, scoring the company on a scale of 1-3 (the same as
Starbucks’ own review system). According to the union’s review,
Starbucks scored a dismal 0.6, with baristas alleging illegal misconduct
in many categories, including discriminatory hiring practices,
contracting with sub-minimum wage plantations in the Third World and
disrespecting labor law.
Two days earlier the IWW Starbucks Workers Union filed 11 charges
encompassing 25 violations of federal labor law with the National Labor
Relations Board. Union baristas alleged a pattern of abuses, ranging
from interrogation of workers for suspected union sympathies, to
instructing supervisors to spy on the union, and disciplining workers
for participating in the union. The charges are similar to allegations
brought against Starbucks by IWW baristas in New York City, where a
federal ruling against Starbucks concluded a two-year legal battle
between the coffee giant and union baristas.
Workers at the Franklin and Nicollet Starbucks have borne the brunt of
much of management’s retaliation. Since they declared their union
membership in protest of unsafe working conditions on Nov. 14, 2008,
management fired back with a campaign to keep workers, particularly
those in the union, compliant and fearful.
Just a day after the union’s press conference, the manager of the
Franklin and Nicollet store was replaced by a known anti-union manager
from a downtown Minneapolis store. Many of the workers feel the transfer
was in response to union activity.
Also, just days after the press conference, one worker was unfairly
written up for being late to a meeting, even though she arrived around
the same time as nearly everyone else, and nobody (including her) was
recorded as being late for payroll. Luckily, that worker saw through
management’s attempts to create an atmosphere of fear in the store and
immediately decided to join the union to fight back.
About a week and a half after the press conference, Starbucks management
held a captive audience meeting with workers to discuss safety and
security at the store. They scheduled nearly an hour of time to explain
why Starbucks absolutely will not hire a security guard, even going so
far as to bring six police officers to the meeting to take management’s
side. The workers were originally scheduled only five minutes for
questions and answers but were able to get in much more, they say,
through their persistence.
During all this time, for about two weeks after the press conference,
district manager Caroline Kaker greatly increased her number of visits
to the Franklin and Nicollet location. While management again will not
admit that this move was directly in response to the press conference
and the union, the pattern is one that many workers believe indicated an
attempt to intimidate workers and increase surveillance on the store due
to its new union presence.
Despite these attempts by management to weaken the union, the union says
it is still going strong at Franklin and Nicollet. They have a strong
membership core, and are continuing to take action to improve everyday
working conditions at the store.
To show their determination to increase safety in their store, and the
area in general, they have been active in the community by attending
Whittier and Stevens Square Community Organization meetings regularly.
“We just hope being involved will make us safer in the long run, since
Starbucks won’t use its resources for a more effective immediate
solution,” explains union member Aaron Kocher. “We go to these meetings
because we care about our community. Starbucks hasn’t actually sent any
representatives, though it proposed the idea.”
As the six-month anniversary of the union nears, the IWW Starbucks
Workers Union plans to continue reaching out to workers at Starbucks
locations across Minneapolis. Organizers apparently plan to make good on
the promise of their chant: “Starbucks Union, here to stay; these lattes
are union made!”
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Dan Clore
Starbucks is too expensive and inconvenient for me now that I've discovered the rich, robust flavor of Hawaiian coffee at home. I order pure Kona coffee online at
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and make it in a French press for the ultimate gourmet flavor without ever leaving the comfort of home.
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