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Starbucks workers in Wisconsin

Employees at a Starbucks location in Oak Creek, Wisconsin joined the wave of unionization efforts at the coffee chain on February 11, 2022. (Photo: CMRJB/Twitter)

Omar, Fetterman Among Those Backing Starbucks Unionization Wave

In the face of the coffee giant's union-busting efforts, Democratic lawmakers and officials nationwide are rallying around workers.

Jessica Corbett

Progressive officeholders and candidates across the United States this week shared their support for an ongoing wave of unionization efforts by Starbucks workers.

"Nothing goes better with a cup of coffee than a strong union."

"Hell yes," U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted Friday in response to news that staff at two Starbucks locations in the Twin Cities are fighting for union recognition.

"Fantastic," the congresswoman added, telling organizers at the nationwide coffee chain, "Please let me know if there's anything I can do to support."

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic U.S Senate candidate, expressed support for workers at the first Pittsburgh store to file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

"It's time for all Starbucks workers, from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, to have a union," Fetterman said in a Friday statement, referencing recent historic victories at locations in northwestern New York.

"Nothing goes better with a cup of coffee than a strong union," he added. "Starbucks' union-busting tactics are disgusting. All workers deserve to share in the profits that they help create, and Starbucks must allow its workers nationwide to unionize without union-busting."

Starbucks has come under fire from employees and labor rights advocates for various anti-union tactics—including the firing of organizers in Memphis, Tennessee earlier this week, which the company claims was not retaliatory but the former employees are formally challenging.

As Common Dreams reported last week, Starbucks is battling union drives at dozens of U.S. stores while—yet again—hiking prices, in spite of the company's soaring profits.

Dozens of elected officials representing New Yorkers—in Congress, the state Legislature, and the New York City Council—sent a letter Thursday to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson declaring that NYC "is a union town and union-busting has no place here."

Expressing solidarity with the workers' organizing efforts, the New York officials echoed Starbucks Workers United's demand that the company endorse nine "fair election principles."

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added his name to the letter, which was also signed by seven House Democrats in the state's congressional delegation: Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Grace Meng, Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ritchie Torres.

Melanie D'Arrigo, a Democrat running to represent New York's 3rd Congressional District, on Thursday visited with Starbucks employees in Great Neck who are working toward a union.

"The movement to unionize Starbucks has hit our district after their historic wins upstate," she said in a video shared on social media. "I am here today both to stand with Starbucks workers and support their efforts to unionize, and to stand firmly against the union-busting practices used by Starbucks in the past."

"An equitable economy is built with workers, not by exploiting them," D'Arrigo added. "As a former union member, I will always fight like hell for the rights and protections of workers."

Other progressives who have backed the Starbucks unionization push since the successful Buffalo effort in December include Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as well as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Co-chairs of the Congressional Labor Caucus—Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Steven Horsford (D-N.V.), Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.)—noted the organizing by Starbucks employees in a Thursday call for the Senate to send a House-approved labor rights bill to President Joe Biden's desk.

The caucus, they said in a statement, "strongly condemns corporate union-busting tactics, such as those reportedly used by Starbucks in retaliation against workers attempting to organize at multiple stores across the country."

The co-chairs continued:

As the first Starbucks stores in the nation sought to unionize in Buffalo, New York, Starbucks allegedly created a hostile organizing environment, using a combination of intimidation, store closures, and rapid hiring of new staff to dilute the pro-union vote to neutralize the worker-led effort. Despite this coordinated corporate anti-union campaign, the Starbucks workers formed a union.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Starbucks fired nearly the entire union organizing committee at a store in Memphis, Tennessee. The rationale offered by Starbucks is that these employees violated company policy, but a former manager at the Memphis store has gone on the record to refute this.

"This type of reported behavior underscores the need for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act," they explained, highlighting that the bill would "offer workers protections and guarantee their right to organize without interference or fear of reprisal by their employers."

"Workers have the right to organize—it's time they had a level playing field to do so," the lawmakers declared. "We once again call on the Senate to pass the PRO Act."

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