A Starbucks location in Lakewood was a “site of collective joy” Monday morning as union members gathered at the picket line to strike against the company’s “unfair labor practices.”
Tyler Keeling, a barista trainer who is the Lakewood store’s lead organizer, described an aura of community and solidarity among union members as they gathered at 4 a.m., chanting phrases such as “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Howard Schultz has got to go!” and holding signs that read, “No contract, no coffee.”
Workers “who weren’t sure what a union even was before are out here leading the chant and celebrating and holding signs and picketing together,” Keeling said. “We have all these people from different unions and organizations supporting us. There’s just this joy that we all share right now.”
Employees at the Lakewood store, at 4833 Candlewood St., and another location in Barstow, at 2834 Lenwood Road, began their one-day strike Monday. These store’s’ workers They joined union members at a Santa Cruz location who began a three-day strike Saturday.
The Santa Cruz location, at Ocean and Water streets, along with another store in the same city, were the first to unionize in California in May. Since then, 14 stores in total have unionized in California, three of which are in the city of Los Angeles.
“Starbucks has great partners and we value their contributions. We respect our partners’ right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement to The Times. “We are grateful for each partner who continues to work, and we always do our best to listen to the concerns of all our partners.”
The strikes were triggered by multiple instances of unfair labor practices, union leaders said. One of the union’s main grievances stems from a slate of new benefits announced by Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz in May. Keeling said the Seattle coffee company announced at the time that union members would not be entitled to these benefits. In response, Starbucks Workers United filed a national unfair labor practice complaint, arguing that it’s illegal to deny union members the benefits.
Keeling said that the benefits cannot be implemented without bargaining negotiations between the company and the union. However, the union believes the company’s “intention was to deceive and scare workers into believing that we would never get these benefits if we unionize,” Keeling said.
In late July, the union sent an official letter to the company stating that it waived its rights to bargain, and gave Starbucks “full permission and consent” to implement the new benefits. A few days ago, the company sent out an internal memo stating that “it’s unfair to implement these benefits” to union members and the union must enter bargaining negotiations over them, Keeling said.
Starbucks Workers United also said that Schultz has attempted “to intervene with, restrain and coerce employees” against unionizing. They argue that Schultz and his colleagues have delayed and refused to meet with unions for bargaining, despite being “required by law to do so.”
Union leaders also emphasized that Starbucks has not been open or transparent in setting bargaining negotiation meetings, which is what the union hopes to accomplish with the strike.
“It’s community, fairness and equality. When I was hired, that’s what they told me Starbucks represents,” said Ezra Erickson, the Barstow store’s lead organizer who works as a barista. “We want Starbucks to come to the bargaining table for the union. We want a seat at the table.”
Noel Bennett, a shift supervisor and lead organizer for the Santa Cruz location at Ocean and Water streets, said there has been little communication between the union and Starbucks regarding negotiations. However, union members did receive a message from their district managers stating that regardless of the strike, their jobs will be safe.
“Starbucks claims they will bargain in good faith; however, in order to bargain in good faith, they must be bargaining in the first place,” Bennett said. “We call upon Starbucks corporate to halt their union busting campaign and come to the bargaining table as soon as possible.”
Bennett also said management has interfered with workers’ rights to spread union literature in the break area at her location by “tearing up our flyers and throwing them away.”
“We, the union at Ocean and Water, hope that this strike is seen not only by Starbucks management and corporate but also by baristas from all across the state,” Bennett said. “We want them to know that we do have a voice and the ability to organize. We want them to know that they aren’t alone in their frustrations and that we, unionized or not, are willing to stand together to fight for our workers’ rights.”
Starbucks management has also interfered with workers’ rights to say the word “union” at the Barstow location, Erickson said. Management would not allow employees to use phrases such as “union strong” or “go union” while working.
Erickson also said that if customers tried to show support for the union by using similar phrasing, the company management would shut that down as well. This is illegal because it goes against labor laws, Erickson said.
Going on strike was also important to the Barstow location to ensure that workers are showing solidarity with other unionized locations across the country, Erickson said. Starbucks workers have held more than 55 strikes across 17 states over the last few months in response to the company’s opposition to unionizing, Starbucks Workers United said in a news release.
“We want to be pro-union. We want customers to be able to say they’re union strong. We want partners to feel comfortable,” Erickson said. “These customers genuinely care about us, and people genuinely care when other people are being treated unfairly.”
In a corrective action form filed by Starbucks Workers United on Friday, union members said that the company unjustly fired hundreds of employees when they shut down multiple stores last month.
According to the company, these locations were shut down because of crime and safety concerns. However, the union said the company “failed to show adequate evidence for these concerns.”
“Howard Schultz’s behavior is unethical and unsafe,” the corrective action form said. “He has stated that conducting business with integrity and transparency is essential to the company. Nothing Howard Schultz has done in response to the union drive at Starbucks has been with integrity or transparency.”
After three days on strike, the Santa Cruz location will conclude its strike at 5:29 a.m. Tuesday, right before the store is set to open for the day. The strike at the Lakewood’s store will end at 9 p.m. Monday. Barstow workers’ strike will also end Monday night.
“Lakewood is our community. Long Beach is our community. This is where we are. This is what we are embedded in, and we love it,” Keeling said. “We want everyone to come out and support us because community is important. That’s why we unionized.”