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Photo: Brittany Valentine/Al Día News
Baristas at the four shops were joined by allies at 20th and Market streets on May 26, 2022. Photo: Brittany Valentine/Al DÍA News

Hope for baristas in Philly, as four Starbucks locations announce successful union votes

Workers from the four shops joined allies for a morning press conference at 20th and Market streets.

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Starbucks, the caffeinated beverage brand founded in Seattle, Washington in 1971, is the largest coffee chain in the world, with over 15,000 locations in the U.S. alone. 

Throughout its success, Starbucks has consistently branded itself as a moderately “liberal” company, making multiple statements in favor of human rights, boasting about the multiple benefits offered to its employees, and more. 

In 2017, the coffee giant pushed back against former President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees from predominantly Islamic countries. In response, Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 “displaced people” worldwide. 

On the company website, Starbucks lists a wide array of impressive benefits and perks for its hundreds of thousands of employees in the U.S. These benefits include health insurance, parental leave, in-store and affiliate discounts, tuition coverage, paid time-off, a 4O1K option, and more. 

But if workers really felt protected, well-paid and healthy, then there most likely would not be an ongoing rise in unionizing efforts at Starbucks locations across the country.

As of this writing, 92 Starbucks stores around the U.S. have successfully formed a union. 

On Tuesday, May 24, four more locations in Philadelphia proudly joined that growing list. The stores that recently won their elections are at the following locations: 9th and South Street, 20th and Market Street, 34th and Walnut Street, and 12th and Walnut. 

Now, Philadelphia has five unionized Starbucks locations, added to Pennsylvania’s six, all located in the Pittsburgh area.

To announce the victories and tell their stories, employees from the newly-unionized Starbucks stores gathered outside 20th and Market Streets, alongside their allies, Councilmembers Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks and Patrick Eiding, President of AFL-CIO. 

“There are more than 80 locations nationwide, thousands of workers and baristas who are taking their own future in their hands, and caring for our economy, caring for our city, and caring for our country,” Gym said in her opening remarks. 

Eiding, President of AFL-CIO, which represents over 100 unions and 150,000 working people in the city, applauded these audacious workers for taking on the daunting task of organizing against such a powerful corporation that doesn’t want to enter into any new agreements with its employees. 

“We have the worst labor laws in the free world. Let’s get the PRO Act passed and level the playing field,” Eiding said. 

If the PRO Act is passed, workers would have expanded rights to various labor protections, including the right to organize and collective bargain with their employers. Among other things, it would also prohibit employers from engaging in retaliation against workers for organizing, which Starbucks has been guilty of in recent months.

Colter Chatriand, who represents the 20th and Callowhill location, shared that his location, which was one of the first Philly stores to file a union petition, unfortunately lost their election. 

Despite the loss, Chartriand was happy to celebrate the success of his fellow Starbucks chain workers and what this continued winning streak may mean for the future. 

“I had a feeling one of the stores would lose, I’m just glad it was only mine,” he said. 

In a conversation with Al DÍA, Amalia Jade Inkeles, union leader from the 20th and Market Street location, said that her and her co-workers have been experiencing burnout from the physical, mental and emotional labor demands, chronic understaffing issues, and inadequate pay to match the rising cost of living. 

Inkeles, who was fluttering with excitement, relief, and optimism during the press conference, could not emphasize enough how much of a toll this job can have on baristas. 

She said that working full shifts, training new people during staff shortages, and having to attend anti-union meetings, has increased her need for therapy appointments. 

Inkeles often felt guilty about standing up to Starbucks. She said that people often gaslight organizers for doing so, when the company offers its employees “so many great benefits.” 

“This job, compared to most other service jobs, is halfway decent. But we feel like charity cases. Like ‘oh you should be grateful for that.’ No, we put more effort in than anyone else in this company. Service labor is skilled labor, as much as teachers, doctors, electricians, technicians, firefighters, police officers, and librarians. We are skilled labor,” Inkeles said. 

Lua Riley, an organizer from the 9th and South Street location said that he has worked in the service industry for many years and he’s noticed that every place is run the “exact same way,” i.e, workers are never valued and they seldom have a voice.

“It’s hard to think about tomorrow when you have to give absolutely everything just to survive today,” Riley said. 

At the end of the conference, Riley was the last barista to speak, and he said that for the first time in a long time, he’s now able to think about what tomorrow may bring. 

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