Starbucks stalls, baristas strike

Graciela Nira, a Starbucks shift supervisor and member of the union’s bargaining team, leads a rally on the picket line at 300 Snelling Ave. N.

Workers at Starbucks locations in St. Paul and St. Anthony are joining a nationwide strike this weekend to protest the coffee chain’s slow-footed approach to negotiating first contracts with newly unionized stores.

It’s the second time in a month that baristas at the two local stores have gone on targeted, unfair-labor-practice strikes. The first came Nov. 17, the day of an annual giveaway promotion featuring free reusable mugs, and workers said the weekend before Christmas is typically among Starbucks’ busiest of the year.

But the Starbucks at 300 Snelling Ave. S had to postpone opening by nearly two hours this morning, and picketing outside the store, which ran from 7 to 10 a.m., appeared to divert many customers. Among those who did cross the picket line, most used the store’s back door.

In St. Anthony, picketing began at 11 a.m. today, and workers will be back on the picket line from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. both tomorrow and Sunday.

Workers are asking supporters to not purchase Starbucks gift cards until workers win the contracts they deserve.

That could be awhile. St. Paul shift supervisor Graciela Nira, a member of the union’s national bargaining committee, said the company finally began bargaining with a Minnesota union Oct. 26, meeting with workers from St. Paul.

But the meeting didn’t last long. The company’s representatives, Nira said, didn’t even sit down.

St. Paul baristas Ethan Carlson (L) and Lilabeth Sokolewicz joined a strike at the unionized Starbucks in St. Paul Dec. 16.

Instead, they claimed that because workers had invited a labor lawyer to join talks remotely, the meeting violated a nationwide agreement that bargaining would take place in person.

“When we asked for the written agreement, they said they didn’t have it,” Nira said. “As far as I know and Workers United (the national union) lawyers know, it doesn’t exist. But they promptly got up to leave, said they were going to caucus and stayed in their own room for six hours.”

Similar scenes played out the following day when union members at a Minneapolis store met with Starbucks management, and in November when workers from Roseville opened bargaining. The company’s representatives, as far as workers could tell, had more interest in ordering lunch than in trading contract proposals.

“We show up to bargain; they walk out,” Nan Watts, a barista in St. Paul, said. “We haven’t seen a lot of effort being put into bargaining on the ground level, so this is our way of saying, nationally, that we do care enough to strike for a contract.”

No further bargaining has taken place at any of Minnesota’s six unionized Starbucks: St. Paul, 47th and Cedar in Minneapolis, St. Anthony, the Mall of America, 5122 Edina Industrial Blvd. and2305 Fairview Ave N. in Roseville.

Union barista Nan Watts picketed during a strike on Starbucks’ “Red Cup Day” in November.

Baristas have said they want to bargain for higher wages, guaranteed hours and staffing, better vacation and sick leave and defined health and safety measures. But none of those issues has made it onto the table yet in local bargaining.

Starbucks is required by law to bargain in good faith with its workers’ unions, but Watts said she feels like the company is “pulling and stretching” the definition of “good faith” in talks so far.

“They’re doing everything they can to disrupt our right to bargain,” Watts said. “I would say it’s one thing to try to convince people not to unionize by providing them with good benefits, but it’s a whole other thing to say you don’t deserve the right to bargain.”

Elsewhere in the U.S., Starbucks has fired union supporters – something that so far hasn’t happened in Minnesota, organizers say. But workers want the company to know they aren’t backing down.

“We’ve been getting a lot of honks from vehicles passing by,” Watts said on the picket line in November. “There’s a labor movement right now. People want to be compensated for the work they do, and I think that’s a pretty human experience.”

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