Our Working Lives


Originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of The Virginia Defender, issue 69, printed July 27. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

Seattle-based Starbucks is the largest coffee shop chain and the third-largest fast-food chain in the United States, with more than 15,000 stores around the country. About 8,900 of those stores are directly owned by the corporation, with the other 6,000 franchise locations.

Last summer, a total of zero corporate stores were unionized. Then, in December, one store in Buffalo voted to be represented by Philadelphia-based SEIU affiliate Workers United, and it was off to the races. On July 22, the University Circle store in Cleveland, Ohio, voted to unionize, making it the 200th shop to organize.

Here in Virginia, we have 10 unionized Starbucks: five in the Richmond area and one each in Fairfax, Falls Church, Leesburg, Roanoke and Newport News.

Predictably, this has been a contentious process: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is a notoriously anti-labor figure and hasn’t shied away from sharing his opinion of unions as meddlesome third parties that can’t improve conditions for workers. The company hired the “labor management relations” firm Littler Mendelson, the largest labor and employment law firm in the U.S., with a history of advising companies like Amazon, Nissan and Delta Airlines on how to oppose unionization campaigns. Starbucks also launched an anti-union website.

According to a June press release, Workers United estimated that it had filed approximately 180 Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of its Starbucks members. Significantly, the company has closed or is closing three unionized stores, one in New York – the first one to vote to unionize – and two in Washington state. The company says the closures are just matters of regular business decision making, while workers call them retaliation for organizing.

The organizing campaign obviously has legs and the union is working to make sure it has teeth, too: Starbucks Workers United is raising a strike fund to support workers who have to take to the picket line. The fund was established in June with a $1 million commitment from parent org Workers United – and just in time. On July 18 the newly-organized Commonwealth Avenue store in Boston, Mass., went out on strike.

Starbucks workers interested in organizing their shops can contact the union at their website, here.

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