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Starbucks Workers Make Demands

Disclaimer - The opinions of the author do not necessarily match those of the IWW. This article is reposted in accordance to Fair Use guidelines.

By Julie Forster, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Jul. 22--Some baristas at the Mall of America Starbucks are using the company's recently announced plans to close 600 stores nationwide to publicize a 4-year-old union organizing effort.

Starbucks plans to close 27 Minnesota locations.

On Monday, two workers walked off the cafe floor and delivered a demand letter to the store manager asking for, among other things, a more lucrative severance package for workers in Minnesota affected by the store closings, according to the Starbucks Workers Union, an organizing campaign of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Jake Bell, one of the workers involved, said they returned to work after faxing the letter to the Seattle-based chain's local offices in Bloomington. The Mall of America store is not among those the chain plans to close.

Starbucks did not return a phone call and an e-mail requesting comment.

Erik Forman, a former Starbucks worker who is helping with the effort, would not reveal how many workers at the mall store were supporters. The union claims to have 200 current and former Starbucks employees as members. The chain said in regulatory filings that it employed 144,000 workers in the U.S. and 172,000 worldwide as of last fall.

"We went public with our union and basically told management that we are forming a union and gave them a list of demands," said Bell, who has worked at Starbucks for a year and a half and makes $8.37 per hour. He and others started wearing union pins at work.

Since the launch of the IWW campaign at Starbucks in 2004, the company has been cited multiple times by the National Labor Relations Board for trying to stop union organizing activity, according to press reports. Forman claims he was fired for union activities and has filed a charge with the NLRB. "You can discuss baseball at work," he said. "You should be able to discuss the union."

The IWW, which was at its peak in the 1920s, is viewed by many as among the most radical of union organizations. At times, it has rejected approaches to labor-management relations championed by more mainstream unions.

The Starbucks Workers Union essentially is a group of workers who are critical of Starbucks and are trying to organize nationally in a store-by-store effort. It has been particularly active in New York, Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich.

The union's core demands are fair severance, better wages, an automatic annual cost of living increase, guaranteed minimum hours and more staff members on shifts. According to Forman, the union isn't seeking an election or a bargaining unit contract. Instead members are relying on "solidarity unionism" to advance their cause.

That might not serve them as well as representation by a more influential union, one labor expert said.

"The workers at Starbucks would be better served by a strong institutional union like the union that represents hotel and restaurant workers, which is Unite Here," said Richard Hurd, a professor of labor studies at Cornell University.

If that were the case, they'd have the legal power and a strategic perspective to develop strong contracts with Starbucks that would protect them.

"However, Unite Here has shown no interest in organizing these workers," Hurd said. "For now it may be that the best way for these workers to voice their complaints is through the Starbucks Workers Union campaign."