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Activists held a sip-in at the 12th and Market Starbucks on June 14. Photo: Philly DSA

Philly baristas still face an uphill battle in Starbucks unionization effort, as fifth store joins fight

AL DÍA spoke with some of the organizations supporting workers facing down managerial union busting efforts.

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Starbucks, the popular chain of coffeehouses and roastery reserves, has over 15,000 locations in the United States alone, spanning 52 states and territories, and 3,119 cities.

Just six months ago, none of these stores were unionized. And for most partners — what the company calls its employees — the prospect of unionizing seemed absurd.

However, in December 2021, Starbucks partners at a store in Buffalo, New York successfully launched a campaign and won their union election, inspiring what is now a groundbreaking labor rights movement within the billion-dollar corporation.

As of this writing, 150 Starbucks stores in the country have successfully unionized, and workers at about 120 other stores have filed a petition.

Many organizers have chosen to go down this path of resistance due to unsafe work conditions, unfair wages, unpredictable hours, and a lack of proper work-life balance.

In Philadelphia, four Starbucks locations have successfully unionized, while others are still awaiting their election. Working shifts and organizing at the same time can be overwhelming enough, but the aggressive union-busting tactics are taking an extra toll.

Baristas across the country have been facing more than just union-busting tactics which range from mandatory anti-union meetings to emotional manipulation.

Philly’s 12th and Walnut Street store is scheduled to vote on unionization on June 21. But as they continue campaigning for better wages, conditions and equity, management is pulling out all the stops to squash the movement.

To provide support and help spread awareness about union-busting, the Philadelphia chapter of Democratic Socialists of America has been joining forces with Starbucks Workers United.

Harinee Suthakar, secretary of Philly DSA, joined in December 2020, and told AL DÍA that the organization got involved with the Starbucks union movement from the start.

“[We got involved] as soon as we heard that Starbucks workers were organizing locally. DSA believes in building power, so that working people have a voice at their job and the resources and support they need to live fulfilling lives,” Suthakar said.

So as soon as Philly DSA got word of the budding efforts, they began brainstorming ways to bolster the local movement.

At the 12th and Walnut store, Suthakar said that workers are facing “demoralizing” union-busting tactics from management, such as emotional manipulation and mandatory anti-union meetings.

In addition to the captive audience meetings, workers are often forced into one-on-one conversations with managers where they are interrogated. Managers will say things like “hey, why can’t we resolve these issues directly?”

Suthakar also said that managers tell organizing baristas that they are not permitted to have any pro-union literature or paraphernalia in the workplace.

“[These are] similar tactics that they’ve been using nationwide, which is making workers feel bad. Managers themselves kind of emotionally manipulate workers by saying ‘why would you do this to me?’, making them feel like it’s a one-on-one thing instead of an effort to have a voice on the job,” she said.

Philly DSA isn’t the only local political group that has pledged its solidarity with Starbucks Workers United. The Philadelphia Chapter of the Young Communist League has also come forward to show support for their growing efforts.

In a statement to AL DÍA, Philly YCL said that it is imperative for workers to feel empowered during this time of “heightened economic strain,” and that all workers should be able to “freely exercise” their right to form a union.

“Free from the threat of termination for spreading the word of their unionization effort to customers. And free from false promises of change that never materialize for the workers. We support all Philadelphian workers' right to form a union, and extend solidarity in their fight to do so,” wrote a member of YCL’s executive committee. 

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