A large group of people in front of a building.
Starbucks workers rallied in San Francisco today as part of a 13-city bus tour across the nation. Photo by Yujie Zhou, July 31, 2023.

Starbucks workers rallied in San Francisco today as part of a 13-city bus tour across the nation to draw attention to what they called union-busting tactics from the coffee giant, demanding their employer allow workers to join a union.

Dozens of baristas, organizers and supporters rallied in front of City Hall, chanting “If we don’t get it, shut it down” and “Union busting, it is disgusting.” The message was meant for Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan, who has led the Seattle-based coffee chain since replacing predecessor Howard Schultz in March.

“Laxman, you could take your monthly half-shift and shove it,” said Kyle Trainer, a barista with 10 years’ experience who works at the Starbucks at 18th and Castro streets, the only unionized Starbucks in San Francisco. “We want higher wages, better benefits, guaranteed and consistent schedules and, most of all, the right to organize.”

Trainer’s store voted to unionize in August 2022, after a closure that workers were originally told would last a month, but went on for six months. “In that time, Starbucks did nothing to support us workers. People were scrambling, picking up hours wherever they could,” said Trainer.

And getting the company’s cooperation has been difficult, despite a vote to unionize. Eleven months after voting to form a union, “my store still has not had even one day of bargaining,” Trainer said. 

In early July, the National Labor Relations Board sued Starbucks over its treatment of workers, the latest in a series of disputes between Starbucks and its workers’ union efforts. 

Nationwide, “Starbucks is fighting back with every union-busting trick in the book, including threatening and firing workers, closing stores, and offering new benefits only to non-union stores,” said SEIU 1021 in a press release last Friday. 

At Starbucks, employees like Trainer are referred to as a “partner,” who Starbucks says “are at the heart of the Starbucks experience.” 

“We are committed to making our partners proud and investing in their health, well-being and success, and to creating a culture of belonging where everyone is welcome,” the company said. 

It is, however, wildly different from how Trainer feels. “To be a partner is sleeping in your car because you couldn’t pay rent,” he said at the rally. “To be a partner, the queer individual being told they can’t be proud of who they are. To be a partner, the worker of color experiences blatantly casual racism and just has to fake a smile and take it.”

On July 5, workers at the 744 Irving St. store filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize with Starbucks Workers United. If they win next month’s union election, the store would become the second Starbucks in San Francisco to form a union.

Since December 2021, more than 330 of some 16,000 Starbucks stores across the country have unionized, representing a total of some 8,000 workers. Compared to the progress nationwide, “it’s been a little slower” in San Francisco, said Trainer. But “as soon as more and more stores start coming in with us, it’s going to get stronger and stronger.”

  • A group of people chanting
  • A group of people sitting and eating
  • A sign

In July 2022, a resolution calling on Starbucks to support unionization, introduced by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors. “But here we are, a year later, and everyone here is still fighting this historic campaign,” Jennifer M. Bolen, Preston’s legislative aide, said at the rally. 

“Starbucks, we’re coming at you from all sides,” she said, adding that workers had support from City Hall, all the supervisors and the Democratic Socialists of America, which counts Preston as a member. The DSA, she said, will not “stop fighting until we get an economy that works for every worker.”

Meanwhile, Starbucks, along with a coalition of fast-food corporations like Chipotle and McDonald’s, is trying to overturn AB 257, or the Fast Recovery Act, which was signed into law in September 2022 to raise fast food workers’ wages to $22 by the end of 2023. The state bill is currently on hold.

“You’ve unionized more stores than probably has been unionized at any company over the last 20 years,” said Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna, a main supporter of the Fast Recovery Act, at the rally. “Today I’m calling on Starbucks again … Stop cutting their hours. Stop retaliating. Stop punishing people who are engaged in their fundamental right to organize.”

The “Starbus” is expected to arrive in Seattle this Sunday.

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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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1 Comment

  1. This toothless stunt has all the hallmarks of a few people promoting their own careers at the expense of the workers. Exploited workers should not be fooled.

    They should know too that the DSA is antagonistic to authentic socialism and exists to corral inexperienced youth and progressives into ultimately making the Democratic Party stronger.

    Through its actions and routine silences, the DSA routinely expresses its solidarity with institutions interested in isolating workers, shutting down strikes, bailing out failed banks, and prosecuting endless wars.

    No doubt many of these exhibitionists were well-intentioned— but they were, bottom-line, being used for the cynical and selfish ends of a few.

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