Starbucks is the world’s largest coffeehouse chain and one of the most recognizable consumer brands in existence. In the US alone, Starbucks has nearly 9,000 corporate-owned stores, and not a single one of them is unionized … until now. After leading an organizing campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic and facing tireless efforts by the company to delay, deflate, and defeat union elections with the National Labor Relations Board, workers at three Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, submitted their ballots this week. After vote counting took place on Thursday, one of the three Buffalo stores, located on Elmwood Avenue, became the first unionized company-owned store in the US. Another store, located on Camp Road, voted against unionizing, and workers at the Genesee Street store in Cheektowaga appear to have voted “yes” on unionizing, but challenges to several votes are still being reviewed.
In this Working People mini-cast, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez talks with Brian Murray, one of the Buffalo Starbucks workers and organizers with SBWorkers United, and journalist Jordan Chariton, who recently traveled to Buffalo to speak with Starbucks workers and report on their fight for Status Coup.
Additional links/info below…
- SBWorkers United website, Twitter page, and Instagram
- GoFundMe: Starbucks Retaliates Against Whistleblower
- Brian’s Twitter page
- Jordan’s Twitter page
- Status Coup website, Twitter page, and YouTube channel
- Sean Collins, Strikewave, “It’s about having a democratic voice in Starbucks.” Interview with Brian Murray of SBWorkersUnited“
- Noam Scheiber, The New York Times, “As Starbucks Workers Seek a Union, Company Officials Converge on Stores“
- Ahiza García-Hodges, NBC News, “Former Starbucks CEO Uses Holocaust Analogy to Describe Coffee Company’s Mission“
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive at freemusicarchive.org):
Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”
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Speaker 1: The greed in this country is absolutely disgusting and I cannot believe Frito-Lay, with all their executives and all the money they make, treats the people that work for them like dirt. Something needs to be done. And I don’t blame all those people for striking. It’s only fair that they pay them good wages and improve their working conditions.
Brian Murray: I’m Brian Murray. I’m one of the workers out here in Buffalo trying to organize at Starbucks around the region. I’ve been at Starbucks about seven months now and I’m a member of the organizing committee and just have been here for pretty much since the launch of the campaign involved.
Jordan Chariton: I’m Jordan Chariton. I am a reporter with Status Coup. We are an independent, progressive news outlet that travels around the country and covers stories, shall we say, that the corporate media covers up.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Well welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and the Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylo,r and supported entirely by listeners like you. As y’all heard, we’ve got a special and urgent mini cast for y’all today. I’m sure that folks who listen to this show are already aware that there’s some big stuff going down in Buffalo where workers at multiple Starbucks locations – We all know the coffee giant Starbucks that has almost 9,000 company-operated stores in the United States alone – It is a massive coffee chain and yet there have been no successful union campaign efforts at Starbucks stores in the United States. And that may be about to change.
As you heard Brian mention, workers at multiple locations in Buffalo have been involved in a cutthroat union organizing campaign to form unions, and the company has been doing everything that it can to thwart those efforts. Even bringing out the former CEO Howard Schultz to come, and I don’t know, sweep the floors and say that, hey, we’re all a family here, and all that bullshit. But against all odds and against Starbucks trying to delay the union election, trying to upend the union election by saying that all the stores in the Buffalo area should be required to vote together as a single bargaining unit. That motion was struck down by the National Labor Relations board and that cleared the way for the current union election that is taking place right now as we speak to proceed.
And so by the time you hear this, we may very well have those union election results. We’re going to try to turn this episode around and get it out for y’all as quickly as possible but we’re also going to be talking about the road that lies ahead, what workers at Starbucks plan to do. We’re going to say when they win this union election vote. And we’re excited to have Brian and Jordan on here. If you guys haven’t already, you should definitely check out the great coverage that Jordan and Status Coup have done on the union campaign over there at the Starbucks locations in Buffalo. So with all of that just helping us set the table a little bit, and of course we’ll include links in the show notes for background articles and to Jordan’s coverage on this so in case y’all want to know more about this important campaign, you can check those out.
But why don’t we, for folks listening here, Brian, I was wondering if I could turn things over to you and ask if you could, I guess, give us sort of a quick and dirty rundown of this unionization effort itself. You said you’ve been there for the better part of a year. I guess through your own eyes, how did you get involved in the campaign, how was it developed? What’s the backstory here that listeners need to know?
Brian Murray: Yeah. This campaign has been in the works in one form or another for a couple years. A local coffee chain out here, SPoT Coffee, won their union election to organize back in 2019. And during that campaign and afterwards, workers at Starbucks who I’ve talked to and are now my good friends out here, had reached out to Workers United and had conversations with Richard Bensinger, this organizer we have on this project, and they’ve been in conversation for a while. But really when I got involved and was brought onboard through different friends, activist friends I had out here, had some involvement with the India Walton campaign and met some people that also worked at Starbucks and got involved, things really picked up the pace.
A lot of our organizing efforts leading up to our launch in August were done basically in secret. We didn’t want the company to have any indication of what was going on just based on everything I had heard from Richard and other workers who had had experience in organizing, especially from SPoT out here. Once a company gains knowledge of our campaign they’ll almost instantaneously act, like we saw they did. So basically just reaching out to workers in different stores, making contacts, trying to map our workplace and figure out what stores would have the most potential union support. And then we launched at the end of August with a letter to Kevin Johnson stating that we were forming an organizing committee, which I was one of the 50 or so workers who signed that letter to Kevin that we sent in August, saying that we are calling on Starbucks to sign a Fair Election Principles which are basically a set of principles that go above the very minimal standards that the law provides to try to ensure that workers get a free and democratic election.
Obviously, Starbucks never responded to that letter. And as we saw immediately after we launched, managers from across the country descended on Buffalo. We have more managers here in Buffalo, and have had, that are the workers voting the first three elections, we believe. Just last night when I was at dinner with some workers, we tried to, on a napkin, scrawl out how many managers we thought were out here. And just for workers from like four stores, we got at least 50 names. I’m sure that doesn’t cover all the what they’re calling support managers or the managers from around the country they’ve fully paid for and flown out here to monitor workers, spy on them, intimidate and really try to do everything they can to stop us from organizing.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. It’s that old adage of if your boss… There’s no better way to tell that you need a union than when your boss and your managers put so much effort into making sure that you don’t form a union.
Brian Murray: Yeah.
Maximillian Alvarez: It’s like, huh, I wonder why you guys are so opposed to this. And we’ve heard all of the… It’s like every freaking line in the book has been coming out like, oh, we’re a family here and we want workers to be able to come directly to managers and deal with issues internally. I think, what was it? Like days or weeks before the election, Starbucks raised their minimum wage and stuff.
Brian Murray: Yeah. They had a planned wage increase in the beginning of October which had been known for months even before the campaign. This was an annual thing, I guess. But then at the end of October once the NLRB finalized their decision, three days before, they announced there was a second set of wage increases that were definitely not planned and tried to promise at some point in the future that there would be seniority pay, some small amount of seniority pay, which was one of the few demands we had put out there in the media and publicly that we wanted to see when we bargain our contracts. And they also promised to raise wages to $15 an hour. We saw Starbucks, once they realized they had lost their case with the NLRB, to try to get none of the stores to vote by petitioning to have all the stores be a single bargaining unit. We saw how very quickly Starbucks then started trying to use the carrot a little bit in bribing workers essentially or at least trying to pay them off to not join with the union.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man, and fucking kudos to you all because this is, I guess for anyone listening, we know the score. We cover it all the time on this show. As excited as we all are about the strikes that have been happening, the grassroots worker struggles that have been taking place, manifesting in different ways. Like record numbers of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs, significant movements for rank and file democracy within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Auto Workers, so on and so forth. There’s a lot of important stuff happening right now.
And even what you just described, Brian, as transparent as Starbucks is being here, like you said, they’re dangling the carrot there to try to kind of get people to think that you don’t need a union, we’ll give you a wage increase, we’ll take care of you. They wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t scared by y’all organizing. And this is what we mean when we say that workers organizing in their workplace are really fighting for everyone. You really raise the floor for others and now there are workers at Starbucks who even, let’s say even if the senior election wasn’t successful, the very threat of it, the very work that y’all have done to organize has produced those sorts of results. But then you see why having a union is so important because there’s so many union workers and organizers have expressed, they’re like, look, if you get that wage increase, if you get those benefits, if you don’t have a union contract to lock it in, just like the fucking hero pay that workers got for two weeks in the first part of the pandemic that was unilaterally taken away whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.
If you don’t have a union contract to lock that shit in, you’re really just at the whims of the bosses. So it’s not about just pressuring the bosses to give more crumbs, it’s about having that power to say like, no, this is what we deserve and this is what we’re going to lock into our contract. Jordan, I want to bring you in here in a sec but I guess, Brian, to maybe build on that I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about what you and your coworkers… Where did the union drive come from? I guess, what sorts of issues have been really galvanizing for everyone there that has motivated y’all enough to start this campaign and see it through to this point?
Brian Murray: Yeah. I think there’s a plethora of issues we’ve seen that motivate us. My background is in social services so I had come out to Buffalo to pursue grad school and this is my first time actually working in food service. But low wages, which I’ve seen in all the jobs I’ve had since college, obviously, is a major motivator. Starbucks currently, when I started I was getting paid $15.55 an hour, I’m making $15.97. And for the Buffalo area that’s actually, for fast food workers, it’s about the median wage. Above $15 is pretty standard out here, so we’re not getting paid anything more than anyone at any other fast food job out here is getting paid. So wages obviously, but the biggest issue we’ve organized around and I think all the stores have filed for elections are really looking for is a say in their workplace and accountability from corporate, and actually having a democratic workplace. That’s our biggest demand and one that Starbucks can never dangle in front of us or somehow co-opt.
It’s so important, especially with the pandemic. Our lives were on the line. Like you mentioned with hero pay, I wasn’t at Starbucks at this point but the hazard pay that Starbucks put in place lasted, I think, until the beginning of June after the pandemic first started and that was it. They deemed after that point that workers no longer need to be compensated extra for putting themselves, their health, and their loved ones’ health at risk. Very clearly like you said, all these concessions that the company might make even during the course of the organizing campaign, none of these things are locked in unless we have a union. And without that accountability, especially with a major corporation like Starbucks, there is never going to be real changes that workers need on the ground, not just in Buffalo but anywhere in the country.
And like you said, we really are carrying all the Starbucks in the country on our back right now. Any gains we get in this contract, anything we win… We saw in the Canadian Starbucks, the one that had organized, Starbucks made unilateral wage increases across the board to try to basically invalidate the contract that they had signed with those workers, I believe in Victoria, B.C. We’re confident to a pretty certain degree that whatever concessions we gain from this contract, those are going to be rolled out across the country. So really when we’re bargaining here for our first contract after we win our first stores tomorrow it’s going to be really bargaining for everyone in the whole country and the whole company, to try to make Starbucks the workplace that we believe it can be.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Well, it goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway that all of us here at Working People are with y’all. We’re sending nothing but love and solidarity to you and to everyone working over there at Starbucks and we stand in solidarity with y’all. We look forward to celebrating with y’all after this vote passes. And I want us to talk a little bit in a minute about what lies ahead for you guys. But Jordan, I wanted to ask you to maybe hop in here and talk a bit about your trip out there to Buffalo where you reported on this union drive. And that was part of, as I understand it, a larger trip where before that you were reporting on the John Deere strike, you recently reported on some more union busting bullshit over at Amazon. And so like us over here, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re running around trying to cover as many of these important struggles as possible and I’m wondering how you see this union drive at Starbucks in Buffalo, how it fits into the other sorts of labor struggles that you’ve been covering?
And also why you went there, why you thought it was necessary, and what you saw when you got there on the ground in Buffalo?
Jordan Chariton: For me as a journalist, if you’ve been paying attention to the progressive movement and some of the online left, it’s been a little Debbie downer particularly since 2020 and Bernie’s second defeat. So to me, I thought it was really valuable to get out there on the ground and show that it’s not all hopeless and that workers are fighting back and this neoliberal, this 30-year neo liberal takeover of the country, it’s starting to break a little bit, and the fever’s starting to break, and workers are realizing they have leverage and, to borrow I guess from Bernie, have said enough is enough. That’s why, as you know, it’s not cheap to do the reporting, to cover the travel expenses and whatnot. We started in Iowa and Illinois, covered four or five different John Deere picket lines, and when you’re out there it’s just contagious in terms of the camaraderie and solidarity you see among the workers. It was striking to me speaking with those workers just how much more intelligent they are than any schmuck CNN pundit you’ll watch.
Maximillian Alvarez: You don’t say.
Jordan Chariton: That’s across the board. John Deere, Starbucks workers, Amazon workers, the working class if they would ever get some air time or get quoted in The New York Times, you might start changing public opinion real quick. So from the John Deere strike I wanted to go to Buffalo because at the time when I was in Buffalo speaking with the Starbucks workers, it coincided with the final week of India Walton’s election. So Buffalo is really ground zero for this exploding worker/progressive momentum. Obviously she wasn’t successful, which there’s a lot of reasons for that, but while I was there I spoke with the Starbucks workers and went to their headquarters for the union drive. And again, it was just extremely eye opening. A to see how organized they were which I think is in part because they have Richard Besinger who was a long-time union organizer as their support for this campaign, but also speaking with the workers, it definitely stood out that they really like Starbucks.
This isn’t really a case of an Amazon or another company where a lot of the workers you speak with, they really have animosity towards the company. A lot of the workers believe in what Starbucks is supposed to stand for, and Starbucks obviously has had this progressive veneer for several decades. They have been very progressive on social issues, but I think this has shown economically they’re pretty much the same as the rest of the usual corporate suspects. So speaking to the workers, A, I was very impressed at how organized the campaign was. I was also kind of surprised because Starbucks was, in my view, caught flat-footed in all of this. I don’t think they expected such an organized positive union campaign. I think they just thought if they did the union busting sessions and flooded the zone with extra managers, senior executives flying in, that it would deter these workers.
I think they were flat-footed and that’s probably why in a last ditch effort Howard Schultz, the former CEO – Who still is very involved day to day – Held a, I don’t know what you would call it, a 45-minute speech at a hotel where he invoked prisoners in concentration camps when talking about how Starbucks workers, we’re like those prisoners in concentration camps. We have to share our blankets. Brian could probably speak to that.
Maximillian Alvarez: I was just about to ask that. I was like when you bring out… It’s funny to me because it’s like you’re trotting out Howard Schultz which, I don’t know, I guess I’ve worked in a lot of fast food but I’ve never worked at Starbucks. I’ve worked at different cafes so it’s different for me but just in my mind I was like, why would you think I would be starstruck by Howard Schultz? The guy who got shuttled out of the Democratic primary as quickly as he came in. But, again, I realize he means a lot more to Starbucks and that whole institution. But I was going to ask, and I’m glad you brought it up, Jordan. What the hell was that Holocaust thing? Just for listeners that may not have heard about it.
Brian Murray: Yeah, sure. And I can say too, I think almost every worker in Buffalo when they were in the run up to Howard coming and speaking to all of us knew Howard was going to be there, but it was billed to us initially as a celebrity will be speaking to workers at Starbucks on Saturday. Everyone knew Howard was going to be there, but it was pitched to us as there’s going to be another celebrity, that was the implication and the way that they were talking about it. I don’t know if something fell through or they really did believe that having Howard Schultz out here would be this, I don’t know, this defining moment where he’d give this amazing speech and all of us would realize how great Starbucks was.
But obviously, it didn’t happen. And I think for a lot of workers it had the opposite effect where he was so tone deaf. In terms of the Holocaust comment, throughout the course of the speech he made he started talking about how he spoke to this rabbi who had survived Auschwitz, and the rabbi talked about how when prisoners in Auschwitz were basically put into the trains one in five or one in six were given a blanket and everyone had to share their blanket and basically that story of, I guess, compassion in unimaginable circumstances. Howard’s message that I took from it, or at least took to try to use on us, was that my takeaway from that was that I’m going to share my blanket with all of you and give you these small benefits and call you partners. And that somehow was supposed to, I don’t know, ingratiate us to Howard more.
There are a lot of partners here that have been with the company and have seen a very different company than what I’ve seen so I can’t speak to their experience of Starbucks let’s say 10, 12 years ago that some of these workers that we have out here that are leaders, the leaders organizing have seen. But I think they really, Starbucks does, just like any service industry job, go through so many workers that I think maybe 10 years ago that message would’ve played really well, just the broader message of, we’re a company that cares. Here’s Howard Schultz, he’s going to tell you what the real values are, and Buffalo somehow went astray. I think workers, just everything from the tone, how patronizing it was, it just landed flat.
I wasn’t at the meeting. Starbucks did post a whole recording of it including one of the workers and leaders from one of the stores that are voting, Gianna Reeves, getting up at the end and demanding or asking Howard Schultz to sign her Fair Election Principles. And she stood up, held the Fair Election Principles up and asked Howard to sign it. Immediately, Howard sprinted out of the room, was ushered away by the security, and Rossi and the president of Starbucks North America who’s been there since the Tuesday after we launched came up with four or five other support managers and started trying to usher Gianna out of the room. They were grabbing her, they were trying to force her to sit down. This juxtaposed with the rhetoric Starbucks has had the whole time that we’re here to listen, we’re all partners, we’re all equal, everyone’s here to have a voice. We want to make sure all voices are heard and that’s why we’re trying to do this, at one point they were trying to do the whole district wide vote.
And the fact that when someone actually, a partner, does speak up and doesn’t want to have their voice heard and just ask a genuine question because if you go look at the video that we posted, and also Starbucks included it in the livestream that they posted, Gianna was not aggressive. She said she appreciated Howard coming out here and some of the things he had said about the company and the values that he was talking about and just wanted him to sign the Fair Election Principles to really live up to those values. The ferocity and just the way in which she was just totally shut down obviously doesn’t stand in line with their stated values.
Jordan Chariton: And I should, can I just add too, because I think this has gone under reported in what Starbucks has been doing, but they’ve been flooding stores with extra managers, senior executives, the president of North America sweeping the floors. They’ve hired additional workers whom many workers have told me are completely unnecessary, still during a pandemic. I spoke with two workers who got COVID, obviously we can’t definitively say that it was from Starbucks, but both were immunocompromised, both other than working at Starbucks told me they didn’t do much socially because of their immunocompromised positions. The location they were at most was Starbucks and they both got COVID and they were telling me that it’s completely unsafe because Starbucks is already packing small spaces with the normal amount of workers that are there with all these extra workers.
And when I was there in Buffalo speaking with workers, at that point the mask mandate and all that was gone, but a few weeks later it came back. But Starbucks has still been flooding the stores and packing the stores, which is a safety risk during this pandemic. They could talk about their blankets but from my reporting they’re doing everything they can and if they are making decisions that are not safe during COVID, so be it.
Brian Murray: Yeah. Just add to that the packing of the stores, not just with managers but workers. They had shut down a neighboring store to a store by the Buffalo airport that is voting right now for their election or is finished voting and is going to have the results tomorrow. They had moved that whole store, Niagara Falls Boulevard Starbucks to the Genesis Starbucks which is voting and then had those workers work there maybe a week or two, and then put them on the voter list that they presented to the NLRB. We can’t believe that was anything but a tactic to try to see how many votes they could pack into that one bargaining unit.
And like you said, Jordan, it ended up potentially or almost probably giving workers COVID, creating a very unsafe work environment to say the least.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man, I’m obviously very pissed about that. I’m still reeling from the Holocaust thing. I have to imagine there must be some poor intern there who is probably saying to Howard like, hey, maybe don’t do this. He’s like, no, no, this is going to land, I promise. Jesus, what a swing and a miss. I am glad, Brian, that, you mentioned Gianna Reeve because, again, everyone involved in this struggle is showing a tremendous amount of bravery and courage and solidarity with their coworkers and, again, we’re sending nothing but love to all of y’all for that, and we know how hard that is especially when you’re facing that kind of pressure from the company. To say nothing of the longstanding anti-union culture that we have in this country.
Granted, that seems like it is changing but it’s not all roses and sunshine if you’re trying to organize your workplace. I saw that video of Gianna Reeve speaking up at that Q&A session and I thought to myself I was like, man, I would never have the guts to do that when I was working in fast food or retail. I don’t know. That’s something that I’ve noticed changing even in the span of one generation is just, I don’t think any of my coworkers really felt like we had the ability to do that. Or if we did we would just feel isolated and ostracized and no one would stand behind us. So even just little signs like that have, to hook into what Jordan was saying earlier, just the sense that more and more working people across the country and beyond are… Maybe it took a pandemic for us to realize how essential we were and it also showed us how little our bosses actually value our lives and our safety.
But even whatever little way or big way that workers stand up against that and speak up and speak out like you’re doing here, that’s a tremendous feat and it’s something that the more that we hear those stories, I guess I just don’t want listeners to get jaded by that. I want us to all remember how inspiring that is and how important that is and how much we all need to support it. I wanted to pick up on something that y’all were just saying since I’ve got you both here. Because we’re also recording this, not just on the day that the votes for the union elections in Buffalo are going to be counted, but at this very moment the story that we reported on last week where we had three graduate student workers at Columbia University on, there’s a massive action in New York City at Columbia happening today as well. Because after we recorded that episode, the university is now switching to its more brutal tactics and it’s essentially threatening to replace striking workers if they don’t return to work after this week, essentially pulling a Ronald Reagan on them.
And right now that strike at Columbia is the biggest strike happening in the country. There are a lot of ongoing strikes like the one at Warrior Met Coal, like the one at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. I guess I bring that up to say that, Jordan, I’d be curious to hear if you’ve been hearing this on your end as well, I imagine that you have. But having actually physically gone from one picket line in manufacturing at John Deere to another, not exactly a picket line, but another workplace where important worker struggles were happening at Starbucks in Buffalo. You were talking about just how shitty the discourse is on the progressive left and I couldn’t agree more, and one of the features of that is that we’re seeing here this historic movement among workers in different sectors across the country.
And instead of just doing whatever we can to fan those flames, doing whatever we can to support these struggles like the striking workers at Kellogg’s and so on and so forth, we end up trying to divide each other. We end up talking about those grad students in Columbia, they’re not real workers, we shouldn’t be talking about them in the same sentence as these Kellogg’s workers or these John Deere workers, even though John Deere workers and Columbia workers are in the same goddamn union. You see where I’m going with this, right? I’m curious to hear from both of y’all what this union effort at Starbucks means in connection to all the other workers’ struggles that we’ve been seeing or I guess, Brian, how you feel yourself connected to that or not.
Brian Murray: Yeah. We definitely do. Jordan was out here at the same time that workers at Mercy Hospital and Catholic Health around Buffalo were on strike. And that actually ended successfully where they won everything they wanted in their contract, especially safe staffing. And we were involved with that. I was involved with other workers here walking the picket line. It was with the CWA workers and it was amazing to see their solidarity, to see what you can win, and the power that we would have once we do unionize. Because it was amazing to see that they, with all these scabs being brought in, all the pressure that was put on them, especially with their jobs and seeing them fight through that in the rain, in the cold, through the night being on the picket line. It was an amazing inspiration.
And I guess also the solidarity we’ve gotten from all these striking workers across the country in workers’ movements from the Amazon workers in Staten Island trying to organize to Kellogg to the many other strikes going on, the coal miners. It’s been really amazing and heartening to see. If we are going to be successful in organizing, or any workplace is, the labor movement and the broader progressive movement needs to stand together and make it unacceptable for companies to union bust and have them face real consequences. I think, at least for the first round of Bessemer, I don’t think Amazon really faced any real consequences for union busting like they did. And in a lot of ways we’re seeing even worse tactics, even more manipulative tactics being rolled out. Because these are much smaller bargaining units where you can run one-on-ones every day with workers, with Rossann Williams, the president of Starbucks North America, sitting down with two other executives with one single worker, maybe some of them were 16, 17 years old. These are minors. And basically threaten them losing benefits, threaten a number of things happening if the union got in.
And it’s completely unacceptable, especially for labor, for these movements and these organizing efforts to be successful or these strikes. We need the progressive movement to stand up together and say enough is enough and have these companies face real consequences for their union busting. I kind of got off a little track there.
Jordan Chariton: Yeah, yeah. While I was in Buffalo there was just so much going on. I went over to Mercy Hospital also and spoke with those workers. I was happy to see that they got a new contract too. I really think it’s really hard to keep up as a journalist. There’s so many strikes happening and now union drives. But I think what’s important to point out is it might just be taken for granted a little bit, just public perception wise, the reason that John Deere workers and Frito-Lay workers and Nabisco and the list goes on and on, the reason they were able to have success is because they do have a union. So that’s why these union drives, because I’ve been covering Starbucks as well as Amazon, are so important, not to pit strikes versus union drives against one another, but they’re so important because you wouldn’t be seeing any momentum for these strikes if they were not unionized workforces despite the battering of the labor movement that unions have taken over the last 30, 40 years.
So to me, covering the Starbucks drive – And I’ve stayed on it since I left Buffalo – They’re all interconnected in a way and I’ve noticed from speaking with workers, the Alabama coal miners who have been on strike now for seven, eight months, speaking with Saint Vincent nurses that have been on strike for a long time, they’re all watching each other. They’re all feeding off each other. And also what Starbucks workers are doing in Buffalo is starting to have a domino effect because there’s workers now in Arizona that are talking about forming a union, Starbucks workers that is. I just saw in Somerville, Massachusetts, they’re thinking about forming a union. And same thing with Amazon, obviously the Staten Island union drive is underway right now but there’s other Amazon warehouses around the country that are now trying to organize and just get off the ground with a campaign.
So all of these, even the ones that aren’t successful, they all feed off each other. It’s all a domino effect. There will be some losses but the overall… I think what’s even more important is the psychological shift. We’ve had this neoliberal machete and what I call the United Corporations of America becoming more and more prevalent over the last 30, 40 years. So this psychological shift where workers actually say, wait a minute. If we actually fight, if we organize, it might take a while, it’s going to be really hard. The corporations aren’t just going to lie down. They will strike back and then some.
But I think what you’re seeing now is this shift psychologically to A, workers saying, no, no. If we stand together, we have a chance, and B, workers are just fed up. They’re not waiting for the Democratic Party anymore, they’re certainly not waiting for the Republican Party. That’s something I got from workers on the picket lines in Iowa and elsewhere that, regardless of what you think about the Democratic Party or Republican Party, they realize both parties, nothing’s really structurally changed for them over the last 30, 40 years. The only things that have structurally changed are their benefits and pay and 401K. I think, psychologically, there’s a real shift going on for the better. I really hope that the Starbucks workers are successful because that is why Starbucks has fought so hard. They know if these workers are successful, and even unionizing one, one location, let alone three, it’s going to be hard to contain it from there.
Maximillian Alvarez: Oh yeah. I think that’s exactly right. It’s a perfect segue into, I guess, this final question here because I don’t want to keep y’all too long. Again, I know we’re recording this on the day that ballots are being counted so there’s a lot of excitement going on and you two both have a lot to do. That brings us to a sort of, where do we go from here? And I ask that question in the broadest sense. I mean that not only in terms of the labor movement but also in terms of all of us who are invested in it and those of us in media and what our role is. I think you said something that is really important, Jordan, about how this stuff can take a while. And that directly conflicts with the people we are trained to be in the 21st century media ecosystem. We are trained through social media, through the hyper speed of the news cycle to just consume headlines, stuff them in our brains, and then forget about them a day later.
And we all have the collective memory of goldfish because that’s just the way that news moves, it’s the way information moves, and that makes it very hard to dig our heels in and stay committed to one another and stay committed to and follow through on these important stories. We’ve mentioned some of the strikes that are ongoing, which we’ve also been trying to keep up the coverage here along with Jordan and so many other great folks over at Labor Notes, Dissent, In These Times, a lot of independent podcasts and YouTube shows. We’re all doing our best to do what mainstream media won’t, which is cover these stories, lift up workers’ voices and keep the pressure up, keep the attention up. That takes a lot of work and I guess this is just my way of plugging all of us.
So for those of you who are listening, please support Working People, please support The Real News, please support Status Coup, Labor Notes, In These Times, so on and so forth. You guys know the deal. But just to give one other example beyond the strikes that we mentioned like Warrior Met Coal, the 1100 mine workers have been on strike since April 1st, I believe. We mentioned Saint Vincent, they’ve been on strike since March. Kellogg’s workers just voted down a new tentative agreement and they’re staying on the picket line heading into the holidays. And we need to keep the pressure and solidarity up there. And it’s important to keep the coverage up as well.
I think it was two seasons ago on this show, we’ve done hundreds of episodes of this shit, it’s work that we love doing. But it was like two seasons ago that I interviewed a worker at Burgerville over, the burger chain over there in the Pacific Northwest, I think they were in Portland. Three years after they launched their unionizing effort with the IWW, they just became the first unionized fast food chain, I think, in the country. It took three years to get there. And so by that point, we’ve had a million new cycles, but yet those workers are there even in an industry like fast food where, as Brian mentioned, you have such high turnover it makes it so hard to sustain that kind of unionization effort, that kind of bargaining and all of that stuff. For those workers at Burgerville to stay with that and see that through is just… Like we said earlier, there’s so much going on in the country especially in fucking Washington, D.C. that gives us no cause for hope.
But something like that, something like what’s going on in Buffalo, what happened at Burgerville, what’s happening in workplaces around the country, that is something that we can invest our hope in, that is something where we working people have more power to change the world that we live in, to band together, demand and fight for what we deserve. Anyway, I won’t go on a long sermon but just really wanted to highlight the importance to my mind of staying with these stories. And for those of us who are listeners and readers and supporters of these struggles, we can’t forget about them. We have to do our part, we have to play our role and keep that support up. Donate to strike funds. Don’t let people forget about workers who are on the picket line risking everything. Do what you can to keep that fire burning.
And speaking of keeping the fire burning, Brian and Jordan, I wanted to ask your thoughts about what comes next. Brian, like we said, we’re putting the good vibes out there so we’re saying when you win this union election. What’s next for you guys over there at Starbucks? What’s next for the labor movement in Buffalo? And Jordan, same for you, what do you got coming up? What sorts of stories are you covering? And what sorts of things do you think folks should be paying attention to?
Brian Murray: Yeah. I don’t want to downplay it at all. We have our biggest fight after we win our first one to three stores. And it doesn’t matter if it’s one or if it’s all three, getting Starbucks to the table and to sign a contract that’s fair and meets the needs of workers here and around the country isn’t a task we can do on our own. We need the whole labor movement, the whole progressive movement, the whole country behind us and forcing Starbucks to come to the table. Because if all their tactics are an indication, and I think they clearly are, that Starbucks is unwilling to have a unionized workplace without outside pressure. They don’t listen to us as workers day-to-day. They listen to customers, they listen to public perception of their company and their brand. And I think one of the only ways we can bring them to the table is through that public pressure in a concerted effort to tell Starbucks, you need to negotiate fairly with these workers and sign a fair contract.
Not just that, we do have our next three elections coming up, probably the beginning of January, mid-January, and also our election out in Arizona for the Starbucks out there. So a lot going on. Regardless of the attention we get in the media moving forward, especially in the progressive movement, we need to keep up and support workers across the country right now trying to organize in the fast food industry. As Jordan mentioned, the liberal machete that’s come down on America and decimated manufacturing and so many jobs. The service industry is one of the main employers and if we can successfully organize service industry jobs, sure, that’s possible and you can get a fair and good contract, potentially that gives a lot more power and it so greatly increases or makes better the lives of workers everywhere across this country.
Jordan Chariton: Yeah. Status Coup, for those viewers that aren’t familiar, we’re on YouTube Status C-O-U-P. You might never see us because YouTube doesn’t exactly prominently feature independent outlets like us. We’re kind of buried in their algorithm. So Status Coup, C-O-U-P, on YouTube, definitely check us out. We’re live several times a week. As best as we can, we’re trying to cover as much ground as we can, specifically going out there on the ground, on location. I think, not to take away from great commentators who give their thoughts from their studios, I think at this time, particularly as electorally the left is obviously not in power, I think it’s really important for journalists, as best as we can financially within our resources, to get out there cover picket lines, cover union drives.
Let’s just face it. These stories are not what clicks, that’s why a lot of other outlets don’t do them. Not just corporate outlets ignoring them but there’s a whole lot of independent outlets that don’t cover these kinds of stories. They kind of swim more in hot takes and interpersonal stuff and online food fights. It’s not only labor intensive, no pun intended, to cover these stories, expensive to cover these stories, but I think extremely important. Because at the end of the day you can’t wake more people up if they don’t see the picket lines, if they don’t see or hear from the workers that are trying to form a union, if they don’t hear their stories, if they don’t see the camaraderie. Because it also can convince other people watching, maybe they need to get involved in their local communities at their workplace, maybe try to form a union, maybe try and get involved with a union that already exists, maybe try and do other things, local economic actions.
So I think it’s really important from the journalistic end for these things to be covered. As you know, Max, it’s not easy. None of us, I certainly, Status Coup doesn’t have any big dollar donors or get our funding from Goldman Sachs or anything so we’re doing this really from small dollar memberships. Status Coup’s… How we fund trips to Buffalo and the picket lines in Iowa is through paying members. If it’s within your means, you can support our on-the-ground reporting for as low as five bucks a month. That’s statuscoup.com/join.
Brian Murray: You can follow us on social media, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @sbworkersunited and we right now still have a fundraiser going for a manager out in Arizona who turned whistleblower and was fired by Starbucks. She’s battling leukemia, could use all the support she can get, and was fired after Starbucks was spying on her and her computer information and found out that she had leaked audio and video recordings of district managers explicitly saying they’re going out to Buffalo to bust the union. That fundraiser on GoFundMe is up on our social media, anything you can give to donate to help Brittany out would be amazing. She’s an amazing person. And the amount of courage she showed and care for just workers at her store and around the country, even out here in Buffalo, it’s really inspiring. Anything people can do to help.
Please reach out if you are a worker at Starbucks and are interested in organizing. We’re always happy to talk to workers from around the country and provide our expertise and support.