As organizing efforts heat up at Starbucks stores in the international coffee giant’s hometown, on Tuesday Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Starbucks workers gathered outside of the company’s headquarters to announce a resolution condemning Starbucks bosses for using union-busting tactics.
While Sawant and the workers were stoked on the nonbinding resolution, the council member also announced that she would give $10,000 from her Solidarity Fund to support the unionization effort.
The resolution will be something of a litmus test for the council, which recently ticked off some working people (if not labor leaders) in December when its members, led by labor champion Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, voted to end hazard pay for grocery workers. Seeing an opportunity for an apparent political victory, Mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed the bill and became a hero on that issue. In another labor battle, Sawant put forward a more material ordinance to realize striking carpenters' demand for free parking. Nothing came of the proposal.
During the press conference this morning, Sawant urged the council to “pick a side” later today on her symbolic gesture to decry union busting and also on the vote to maintain or overturn the Mayor’s veto on their decision to end hazard pay.
She addressed the council: “If you are not willing to vote yes, even on this resolution, then what do you stand for? Because this resolution simply says, ‘We stand with unions. We are asking Starbucks to stop union busting.’ It's just that it's that simple.”
She added, “Just vote ‘yes’ on the resolution if you want to pretend to be any kind of pro-union politician.”
Any council member can introduce an ordinance to meet a demand from workers, but when it comes to ending union busting, Sawant is not so sure. While she would “jump at the opportunity” to pass an ordinance to stop union busting, she said she is “not aware that that is possible to do.”
Union busting is already illegal, and yet it remains very common as bosses and organizers disagree on what amounts to a violation. For instance, a worker at the Capitol Hill Starbucks on Broadway and Denny feels as if meetings where three managers gather with one worker to discuss questions about the union "with a big emphasis of the benefits we might lose" might veer into union-busting territory, but that's technically fine. Rachel Ybarra, a Starbucks worker and organizer, said that Starbucks is “following the law to the letter” and has enough money to pay the fines if its intimidation tactics goes too far. For that reason, Ybarra said an ordinance from the council of this kind would not be actionable.
Ybarra has kept track of anti-union tactics at their store on Twitter.
Nonsense that has happened in the last week since we filed:
— Rachel Ybarra (@goblin_barista) December 31, 2021
Soon after filing last month, a regional manager came into their store and put up “anti-bullying” flyers, which they believe were intended to equate candid conversation about working conditions to harassment, Ybarra told The Stranger. More recently, multiple workers at this location said that every Thursday, corporate meets with workers — and it’s not to negotiate.
My precious regulars!! Y’all have been asking how to support and we appreciate that so so much. Your solidarity and emotional support will be so important during this time, all we need is to show corporate that our neighbors are with us ❤️❤️ https://t.co/R7oYh2HzaO
— Rachel Ybarra (@goblin_barista) January 13, 2022
At the press conference, Gianna Reeves, a shift supervisor at the Buffalo Starbucks, the first unionized Starbucks in a wave of over 30 stores following suit, said higher-ups met unionization efforts with hostility.
Even though the resolution is symbolic, Ybarra said Sawant and the council’s support is important.
“A lot of this battle is about us inspiring and supporting each other,” they said in a text.
They added, “I think it’s definitely meaningful that the city that SB is based in is making a formal statement that their behavior is inexcusable.”