View from the Shop Floor: A Unionized Starbucks Worker Sees the Difference

Solidarity is brewing with DSA members and far beyond. Last month, Democratic Left carried out an interview with a non-union Starbucks worker (SW). This interview is with a DSA San Francisco  member and union organizer in the Castro Starbucks store. 

DL: What was the unionization process like from your perspective?

SW: It was something we had been talking about for a while. It was one of those things where someone needed to take that jump. One of my coworkers took that first step and came to me and I was like “absolutely.” Honestly, it feels incredibly empowering, I’d say, just because I’d been with the company [Starbucks] for about 10 years and for me all my good experiences with this company have been because of the people I worked with, never the company itself. I just wanted everyone to be taken care of. I got brought on and it was just me and my coworker and we started talking to people about what we’re trying to do. It was surprising to me that a lot of people don’t know anything about labor stuff; a lot of people didn’t even know what a union was.

So the first step was convincing everyone at the store that this was a good idea, which was easy because everyone was peeved at the fact that the store was closed for four months because customers were coming in and smelling sewage and the company never did anything about that. They originally told us it was going to be a week or two to fix the sewage problem but it ended up taking four  months of frantically finding shifts on their own with no help from the company. When the floor was “done” they got people in to check the work and they said it was not up to Starbucks standards. So they told us it could be another month before we could work there again. A couple of employees said, “Fuck that, we can clean it up ourselves,” and so some employees did the cleanup themselves so that everyone could go back to work. So getting the majority of people to hop on was pretty easy, and we had a lot of help from other unionized stores outside of San Francisco but within California. Having that support was super useful.

How have things changed since you’ve unionized?

I can’t speak for everyone but I’d say that everyone feels more tight-knit now, and we’re close with other unionized stores outside of our store. We’ve made so many new friends from this whole thing. I think everyone feels a little more confident that we’re not at the mercy of Starbucks  anymore – we can protect ourselves from what we think is bullshit and we have a support system. Before things like the Sip-In happened, which y’all [DSA SF] helped with, I’ve never had a job where people I’ve worked with came together so quickly. When we planned for the Sip-In it was such short notice, so many employees just showed up and did what they needed to do. We’re coming together now in ways that I never would have imagined we would have been able to.

Right now we’re getting ready to bargain. I’m not sure if I can talk about that now, but I’m sure the support system the union offers will be there for us.

What are some things that you personally learned in the unionization process?

Basically the concept of organizing [laughs]. I learned that I don’t have to depend on myself for everything. It felt like growing up, you gotta figure everything out on your own, but this unionization effort really taught me it’s okay to lean on others for help. 

Have you noticed that your relationship with your manager has changed?

We have a new manager now, which was honestly kind of interesting because in my experience Starbucks likes to switch bosses when they want to clear some people out. When a new boss comes in, the old team tends to clear out because it’s change, and a lotta time people don’t like change. I know this boss is just doing what Starbucks is telling them to do, but when it really comes down to it, it’s us against them [laugh]. I’m friendly but standoffish. 

With me, I won’t lie, I’ve had some bosses that I thought were pretty cool, but I guess I never thought about the kind of power a boss can have at a job until I got involved in all this [unionization effort] and I saw what Starbucks was doing, and so” friendly but standoffish” is how I’d put it nowadays. I’m nice, but I don’t trust you.

Were there specific instances that degraded your trust?

Well, if the bosses really wanted to, they could be part of the [unionization] process, I’d be happy to cooperate. But a lot of the time it seems like they’re not even interested. I don’t see higher-up people I used to see a lot of the time – I don’t see them anymore, they’re not interested. Honestly, it’s been kind of interesting for me watching because sometimes I hear stuff that’s happened at other stores, like the one store manager who when they did a march on the boss she ended up calling the cops and saying that she was being kidnapped [laughs]. It’s weird for me because we haven’t experienced any outright firings or things like that, but I’d say it’s felt a little more lowkey, which I don’t know why that would be.

What is your advice to other people who work at Starbucks?

I would say, don’t hesitate, reach out to anyone at Starbucks Workers United, we want to help and we want to see more unionized stores. We’re a support system, so if you’re thinking about it just hit us up and do it. Don’t hesitate, just reach out to