After months of red tape a union election was finally set for Bridges Starbucks Workers in June, winning their election unanimously 14-0. The following is an interview with a Starbucks partner since their victory.
The Virginia Worker: Firstly, congratulations on your sweeping victory with your election, it’s been several months since we last spoke. Last time you said the election was going to happen in March or April. Why do you think it took so long to finally cast your ballots?
M: I think it was because Starbucks was trying to get us to vote as a district, and it was just their effort to stall as much as possible, the same thing happened to a couple of stores in Richmond as well, they actually had to wait a little longer than we did, and then the labor board was dragging their feet after that.
VW: Do you think it worked in favor of Starbucks to keep delaying the vote?
M: I think it made us more determined and frustrated with the company than anything, it shows their true colors in everything they do.
VW: We noticed there was an ebb to the momentum around the campaign, what caused this? How did workers overcome this?
M: It was a combination of burnout and everyone lost patience a little bit, but feeling the support from our community when we were having these problems sparked it back up and we’ve gotten our gusto back, I’m glad we made it and it feels better we’re finally unionized.
VW: After going through the initial process of signing authorization cards and holding an election what is your impression of the National Labor Relations Board? Do you think their process works?
M: I’m not seeing the details of how it works from where I’m standing, I’m not understanding why it took so long for an election date, we had stores files later than us and earlier than us [that had votes].
VW: To build off the last question, what do you anticipate the negotiating process to be like? On average, it can take years to secure a contract once a vote has been won. Will Starbucks workers be the ones at the negotiating table or will Workers United lawyers be the ones leading the negotiations?
M: This is such a new thing, that we’re not really sure. We’re excited to learn how this process works. What we’re looking to do now is get together and see priorities, pass some surveys around, we’re going to be looking up proper language to use in these contracts. We know there’s a database that Starbucks’ workers are getting together where we are sharing all of our contracts, and getting legal assistance with proper language to use.
I’m not equipped to do legal work, that needs to be done by professionals. At the end of the day I’m looking to see my partners’ contracts fulfilled and they will be written by us, at the end of the day we will be negotiating in spirit. I need to ask Virginia Diamond how that will work.
VW: What will Starbucks workers do to secure a good contract as fast as possible?
M: I’m not sure the qualifications are legally, Im hoping to learn along the way, I do know we will have access to previous contracts, and look to put as many protections in as possible, we have a focus on disabled coworkers at our store, and a focus on heating and air, higher pay, consistent hours are very very important
VW: What advice would you give to workers across the region after going through this first step?
M: I would say keep pushing. Your managers are going to try to emotionally manipulate you and make you scared. It’s not gonna work. Know your rights and make sure you’re educated on what you can do at work, and don’t let managers tell you you can’t when it’s legal. Make sure you are communicating with your fellow workers and sometimes its really good to go out and do something fun together and team build, and make sure you stay connected. That’s what got us through that period of waiting
VW: Have there been any NLRB informal settlements yet from prior unfair labor practices by management at your store?
M: Not particularly at our store. We were involved in a ULP from our hours being cut, but we think that was statewide or nationwide, so wasn’t specifically with our store. We do have a few partners looking into filing charges. Our hours did get better, but now they’ve dropped a bit again. We’re not sure why that’s happening. We’re keeping tabs on that. It’s mostly been passive aggressive stuff.
VW: How much have Bridges Starbucks workers been in touch with other Virginia Starbucks workers? Is there coordination going on?
M: We have planted seeds with a lot of people, everyone is trying to talk to other partners about getting organized. We work at a lot of other stores. So we definitely have a tight connection.
VW: What do you think is needed for more workers in the region to get organized? What do you think are the biggest obstacles to that?
M: I think the most important thing is getting the correct information out. Education is the biggest thing we can do in this situation. Just being unionized helps.
VW: There’s been a wave of unionization across corporations this year, do you see yourselves as part of a movement? Where do you think it’s heading? Where does it need to go?
M: Absolutely, I couldn’t say if Starbucks started it or not, it’s what we need to be doing in this country right now. I’d like to see every business in this country unionized. I’d love to see worker co-ops, and would love to see it go a step further and see workers owning the businesses we work at. With everything going on in our country right now it seems like the one good thing we could be doing.
VW: Now that the Federal Reserve has launched an assault on workers to destroy wage growth from the labor shortage by raising interest rates to drive up unemployment, and with many economists forecasting a recession, what effect do you think this will have on future labor organizing efforts? Do you think this will affect worker solidarity?
M: I think people are starting to realize trickle-down doesn’t work, and are looking at our crumbling infrastructure and everything our taxes are supposedly going towards, and it’s just going to the billionaires. I definitely think people are going to want to take their workplace into their hands, especially when gas prices, food prices, and their wages are stagnant. People are feeling that pressure financially and going to start thinking about it more. As the gap grows wider it’s easier to see.
VW: Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz has taken over again, do you think this was because of the union drive? Shultz recently said he will never accept Starbucks Workers United, what do you think about this?
M: I believe Kevin Johnson was planning on stepping down before this happened anyways, but it could be either way. They are very invested in union busting. Actions speak louder than words, so it’s not surprising. He clearly doesn’t understand what a progressive company looks like today, he’s too buried in the money.
VW: Is COVID still a concern for you all?
M: It’s been on and off. Starbucks is keeping an eye on what the infection rate looks like in our areas, and we’ll mask up when it’s high. I think Starbucks opened the cafes way too early
VW: How do you all feel about strikes at this point?
M: We’ve thrown it out here and there, but Im sure its something we would be willing to do as a group, it’d be just a matter of how everyone is feeling and what the issues are
VW: Are you all familiar with the IWW’s Starbucks campaign prior to Starbucks Workers United? Has this been a source of inspiration at all?
M: The only thing I was ever told about Starbucks and unions before I got involved in this was that a store attempted to unionize and Starbucks fired all of them and that was the fear mongering.
VW: Have you all noticed any differences between coworkers and their attitude towards the union on the basis of age, race, or gender?
M: I would say older people are a little more apprehensive. Younger people want to see change, they are a little bit frightened about the future. I definitely think younger people are open minded and a lot of them want to stick it to the company cause they’re teenagers. We’ve had a couple partners who were anti union. If anything more interest has grown over time
VW: Does management try to portray themselves as your friends?
M: Oh yes, absolutely, but you learn pretty fast how things work with that. There’s a lot of talk of “oh Im pro-union” which is something the company is training managers to say, they are being told to use if they’re family members were in a union.
VW: Do you anticipate more retaliation from management at your store?
M: I guess I do, but I don’t think it will be effective at this point. At this point we won unanimously and any retaliation won’t work. I’m not worried about it. There probably will be.
VW: Is there anything else you’d like the public to know?
M: I think everyone should know their rights, you’re allowed to discuss unionizing at your workplace, you have the right to discuss your salary and wage. I’d highly encourage you to do so. I think that’s the one thing we need to be doing in this country and gaining the means of production and building our power that way. We need to take that power. Don’t listen to union busting, they have ulterior motives.