Bad Takes: Starbucks treats its workers like shit, and politicos allow the company to get away with it

Even though 301 Starbucks stores won their union elections, they've so far achieved zero union contracts to show for it, thanks to the company's brazen obstruction.

Organizers from Starbucks Workers United rally at Labor Plaza in downtown San Antonio last December to commemorate the one year anniversary of the first Starbucks location to unionize. - Michael Karlis
Michael Karlis
Organizers from Starbucks Workers United rally at Labor Plaza in downtown San Antonio last December to commemorate the one year anniversary of the first Starbucks location to unionize.

Editor's Note: Bad Takes is a column of opinion and analysis.

If your employer is willing to break the law to stop you from starting a union, that's probably a pretty good reason to start a union.

A year ago this month, then-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told a town hall meeting of employees, "We can't ignore what is happening as it relates to companies throughout the country being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionization."

Assaulted? How exactly does a worker exercising their legal right to unionize represent committing an assault?

The National Labor Relations Board spells out things pretty clearly.

"You have the right to organize a union to negotiate with your employer over your terms and conditions of employment," the NLRB notes on its website. "This includes your right to distribute union literature, wear union buttons or T-shirts, solicit coworkers to sign union authorization cards, and discuss the union with coworkers. Supervisors and managers cannot spy on you, coercively question you, threaten you or bribe you regarding your union activity. You can't be fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way for engaging in these activities."

That's the law. But tell that to Robert Hernandez. He was the lead organizer at the Shavano Park Starbucks at Northwest Military Drive and Loop 1604 Starbucks, which voted to form a union last November. After two years of dedicated service to his customers and coworkers, management recently shitcanned him for reasons he argues had never been cause for discipline in the past.  

Or tell Madeline Gierkey, a barista in Houston.

"We know that we are valuable as workers, we respect each other, and we know what we deserve," she told Houston Public Media after her store won its union vote.

According to Starbucks, though, what she deserved was to be thrown out on her ass.

Or tell Alexis Rizzo, a shift supervisor at the shop that ignited the Starbucks Workers United movement. She was terminated for being late four times in seven years. After being fired, she spoke outside her store and directed choice words at Schultz.

"I have given every ounce of everything that I have to this company," Rizzo said. "There's no one who has worked with me that will tell you that I do not love and care for this place and my customers. My heart is broken. You know that you're a heartless monster. I don't know how you sleep at night; I don't how you look at yourself in the mirror. You have hundreds of thousands of people giving everything that they have so that you can make another dollar, and then you treat us like we're dirt. It's disgusting. You know what kind of a person you are and everyone else is going to find out."

If you'd like to help these workers with rent and other life expenses while they petition the NLRB to get their jobs back, please look up their GoFundMe pages online.

All these firings occurred days after Schultz showed his ass late last month as he appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders.

"I take offense with you categorizing Starbucks as a union-buster," Schultz said, instantaneously provoking raucous laughter among attendees in the hearing room. Further, Schultz continued to refer to massive violations of relevant labor statutes as "allegations" and insisted that Starbucks hasn't broken the law.

But when a judge at the NLRB rules on a complaint, that's no longer a mere allegation. That's a presumptive finding of criminal malfeasance. Out of over 500 unfair labor practice charges, judges, understaffed though they are, have found Starbucks broke the law 130 times.

That's not an allegation, Mr. Schultz, them's the facts.

On April 24, Starbucks' new CEO announced so-called "connection sessions," two-hour online meetings allowing employees to taste coffee together and play games. A Starbucks Workers United representative called the new program "nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by the company to continue its unprecedented union-busting campaign."

Meanwhile, in federal court, Starbucks asked to subpoena employees' text messages and emails, which would better enable executives to target union organizers for retaliation.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Even though 301 Starbucks stores won their union elections, they've so far achieved zero union contracts to show for it, thanks to the company's brazen obstruction.

Jaysin Saxton, a wrongfully fired Starbucks worker later reinstated by the NLRB, testified after Schultz in front of Sanders' committee, and subsequently told Democracy Now! about the $100 billion corporation's arbitrary work schedules.

"A partner — which is what Starbucks calls its employees — can work 25 hours one week and the next week work five hours," he said. "There's no stability in how much you're earning or in how many hours you're getting. So, you can't afford to pay your bills and you have to choose between gas and food."

Meanwhile, Schultz, the proud owner of a $120 million superyacht, objected to committee members even calling him a billionaire. (His net worth reportedly hovers around $3.9 billion.) And the public acts of fellatio Republican senators performed on the CEO during the hearing expose the lie that the GOP could ever pretend to be a party of the working class.

Republican senators from Mitt Romney to Markwayne Mullin offered nary a cross word about Starbucks' flagrant union-busting, and Rand Paul, true to his name, actually quoted from an Ayn Rand novel while praising capitalism for every civilizational advancement of the 20th century, conveniently ignoring the role of organized labor.

Not that the Democrats are much better.

Back in March, Jon Stewart grilled Lawrence Summers, a former treasury secretary under Clinton, about economic planners' deliberate attempt to induce a recession to curb rising prices.

"You're saying to me, 'Jon, market forces are market forces', but when there's a tightness in the labor market, the workers, just following the same capitalistic principles that allow companies to charge more for their products, shouldn't charge more, because wage inflation is driving inflation," Stewart said.

Then he admitted that the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes are likely to quell consumer demand and lead to "a somewhat looser labor market" with unemployment projected to exceed 5% by year's end.

So, when flush corporations gang-markup their prices, that's just the free market at work. But when workers go on strike to demand a living wage, that's an assault which necessitates the strictest of discipline.

Corporations like Starbucks think we're too stupid to tell the difference between genuine cooperation based on shared decision making and phony exploitative "cooperation" papered over with "we're all family here" slogans.

Bottom-line: we should stop buying Starbucks coffee until they reach an agreement with the union organizers who have served as an inspiring example to us all.

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