By Lukas Alder
On January 27, workers and their supporters rallied outside a Starbucks location in Eugene, Oregon, where workers have filed a petition to unionize. The striking workers have continued their union drive in the face of tactics meant to intimidate them from the corporation’s upper management.
The unionization effort is part of a larger trend among Starbucks workers in New York, Ohio, and Arizona. The Eugene workers were inspired to begin organizing by their fellow Starbucks workers across the country who are engaging in struggle. One worker who spoke to the crowd said: “We saw them [other workers] come together. We saw them fight. And we were like, you know what, we can do that too.”
The Starbucks unions are seeking to join Workers United, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and have filed petitions through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Since the union filing, Starbucks has sought to intimidate workers on a nearly daily basis at the location. Workers speaking with Tribune at the rally said: “We have had upper-management in here every single day for weeks. Yesterday we had someone from HR [human relations] drive her Tesla here and sit down to have two-on-one conversations, pulling people off the floor, just to tell them things like “make sure you do your own research” and “unions cost dues.”
Starbucks’ union busting tactics have generally focused on feigning care and concern for the workers, but are effectively intimidation, pulling workers aside for two-on-one discussions about the issues that management supposedly care about, all while stressing the supposed “downsides” to unionizing.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Starbucks had escalated its tactics, firing nearly all the members of a union organizing committee at a Memphis Starbucks location after they spoke with the media. On a GoFundMe page started by the fired workers to cover lost wages, the workers wrote, “If Starbucks thought this would silence us — they are very much mistaken. Our movement is only getting stronger, and we know that we will win our jobs back, our union, and our fundamental human and civil right to organize.”
While facing the pressure of Starbucks, the workers will also contend with the union bureaucracy of Workers United and the SEIU. The leadership of yellow unions like the SEIU routinely sell-out their members in negotiations with the bosses and curtail the actions of striking workers within the framework of what is acceptable to the capitalist ruling class. These unions act as a middle man between the workers and capitalists, seeking compromise and the resolution of labor struggles in a way that is amenable to the bosses while delivering some concessions for workers. Likewise, the NLRB is a government agency which enforces the already-weak laws around collective bargaining and unfair labor practices, laws which are inherently favorable to the capitalists by severely restricting what striking workers are allowed to do.
The workers in Eugene have been bolstered by the community support for their struggle, with many people honking their horns or yelling support from their car as they drove by the rally.
“Oh my god. It’s a wonderful experience.” said one Starbucks barista at the rally. “And it’s so beautiful that we have so many people in the community coming to support us.”Another Starbucks worker added: “Yeah we’ve had people come through the drive through and be like ‘we are with you 110%.’ And people come into the store just to say that.”
Local Tribune supporters were in attendance at the rally holding a banner reading “Workers of the World, Unite!” and distributed a recent article on the Eugene workers’ union drive. One barista said that earlier in the week, workers had pinned up the Tribune article in their break room.
One speaker who identified himself as “just another worker in town” told the crowd, “Day in day out, we have our quotas raised non-stop, pushing us further and further. It’s nothing but frustrating, but the workers of Eugene, the workers of the US, and the workers of the world are sick of it!”
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