In a town hall with organizing Starbucks workers on Wednesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) highlighted the corporation’s greed and praised the workers for their “courage” in standing up to the company’s union busting.
“We live in a country today where a lot of people are hurting, they feel powerless. And what you are doing is addressing that by bringing people together to stand up for justice,” Sanders said. “And you, I want to say, are an inspiration to many of us.”
Starbucks workers have been facing a fierce union-busting campaign by the company, which has been forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings, using legal delay tactics and firing organizing employees. Despite these tactics, over 100 stores in 26 states have filed for union representation over the past few months, and new filings are flooding in every week.
Although the company refers to employees as ‘partners’, workers say that they have been treated as anything but. Low wages and unsafe working conditions due to COVID are common complaints, and workers say that the company refuses to address their concerns. In response to the organizing campaign, the company has hired over 30 union-busting lawyers from the notorious anti-union firm Littler Mendelson.
Sanders pointed out that while the company refuses to listen to its employees’ concerns, it is raking in record profits and rewarding executives and shareholders handsomely. “You’re dealing with a very wealthy corporation spending millions trying to crush the union organizing effort that is taking place all over this country,” the senator said.
During the pandemic, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz has become $1.2 billion richer, Sanders said. Last year, CEO Kevin Johnson got a 39 percent pay raise, bringing his total compensation to over $20 million. Meanwhile, the company’s revenues grew by 31 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021, and increased by 22 percent over the past two years.
Organizers at the town hall shared their experiences working at Starbucks, highlighting the company’s union busting.
“Instead of investing in their workers that make this company so successful, they’re investing millions in an anti-worker, anti-union campaign,” said Kylah Clay, a barista and organizer in Boston. “But this should come as no surprise given the company’s longstanding opposition to workers’ empowerment. Since the 1980s, Starbucks has deployed million dollar anti-union legal teams to pressure their so-called partners out of exercising their rights to unionize.”
The company often touts benefits like retirement funds and discounted vacations as reasons that workers don’t need to form a union, but the benefits can be so expensive that workers can’t even use them.
“Even for those of us who have the privilege to take advantage of some of the benefits, all of these dazzling benefits that Starbucks does offer can’t be taken advantage of due to the lack of wages,” said Len Harris, a Denver worker and organizer. Harris once tried to contribute to a 401(k) offered by the company, but couldn’t afford to pay rent with the contribution.
Harris added that the company offers few forms of advancement for tenured employees. Employees with years of experience earn only 63 cents more than people who were just hired, Harris said.
Part of the reason why the labor movement is currently surging is because young people are facing much more hardship in the job market than previous generations, Sanders pointed out.
“Your generation has had it tough, to be honest with you. Everything being equal, you are earning less than your parents earned, despite the fact that, in general, you have more education. Many of you are struggling with student debt,” he said. “What you guys are doing is breaking new ground … having the courage to take on a very, very powerful corporation.”