About a dozen former and current Starbucks workers gathered outside the coffee chain’s outlet at the intersection of Nicollet and Franklin avenues on Thursday morning, circling on the sidewalk in the single-digit temperatures and carrying placards that read “Justice for Baristas” and “Starbucks Workers Union.”
“Starbucks Union here to stay,” they chanted. “These lattes are union-made.”
The event coincided with the filing of 11 labor violation charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Among the accusations against the ubiquitous coffee retailer: Employees were illegally fired or punished for engaging in union activities; store managers wrongly prohibited discussions of organizing efforts at work; and pro-union workers were spied on by management.
“Starbucks has flagrantly violated the National Labor Relations Act on countless occasions,” said Aaron Kocher, an employee at the Nicollet Avenue shop.
As a media event it was admittedly something of a failure. Along with a Minnesota Independent reporter, there was exactly one other attendee shooting video. But that doesn’t mean the Starbucks Workers Union hasn’t made some progress in its four-year campaign to organize baristas at outlets across the country.
Although the union, which is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, is not recognized by Starbucks, it now has an active presence in stores across the country. And recently it has won some notable victories in making the case that Starbucks routinely violates labor laws. In December, the NLRB ruled that the company illegally fired three baristas for union activities and ordered that they be reinstated with back pay. The federal agency also determined that Starbucks broke the law by prohibiting union activities in the workplace and punishing pro-union workers with poor evaluations.
Earlier this week, the NLRB took Starbucks to court seeking the reinstatement of a worker in Grand Rapids, Mich. “On the basis of an investigation that we preformed, we allege this employee was terminated because of his union activities,” said Stephen Glasser, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, agreed to re-hire Forman and pay him roughly $2,000 in back pay.
At Thursday’s event, workers presented Starbucks with its own “performance review.” Not surprisingly the company did not receive high marks. On a three-point scale evaluating 10 business practices, its average score was well under one. The company received a score of one, for instance, in the area of wages. “We’re not coffee beans; we’re human beings,” said Forman. “And we have needs. We need to pay rent. We need to pay bills.”
On the issue of diversity, the company fared even worse, earning a zero rating. “I find it hard to believe that only pretty, young, straight, white girls are turning in applications,” said Jamie Laudert, a former Starbucks employee who quit because she says she couldn’t live on the wages.
After they finished reading the performance evaluation, the workers filed into the Starbucks shop to speak with a district manager, who’d been present earlier in the day. But the manager had already vacated the premises.