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Unionized Starbucks workers go on strike in Worcester, 'sip-ins' staged elsewhere

·6 min read
Unionized baristas picket Monday in front of the East Central Street Starbucks in Worcester.
Unionized baristas picket Monday in front of the East Central Street Starbucks in Worcester.

WORCESTER — If you stopped at the Starbucks at 11 East Central St. Monday morning to pick up a Caffè Americano, cappuccino, espresso, espresso macchiato or a latte, you were out of luck.

The recently unionized baristas are on strike against unfair labor practices by the Seattle-based coffee giant.

"We're on strike here at East Central Street because of unfair labor practices, union-busting and Starbucks choosing to not give us management that upholds Starbucks' own stated missioning values," barista Bailey Fulton said. "That's really the issue. They have great missioning values. They're not taking the action to uphold them."

More: Starbucks workers at East Central Street store in Worcester file to form a union

Fulton said specific issues include employees not getting enough hours and the shop being understaffed.

"I'm available for 35 hours. I'm working 22. I can't pay my rent," Fulton said. "We're not being given the labor and being told that we have to do more with less labor."

In May, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that a litany of new benefits, including pay increases, new training programs, and updates to the dress code would be rolled out to Starbucks locations. However, they would only be rolled out to non-unionized, non-organizing stores, and not to unionized locations such as the one on East Central Street.

Starbucks responds

A Starbucks spokesperson released the following statement to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: "We currently have a strike happening at the 11 East Central St Store in Worcester, Massachusetts. 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. 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."

Other issues

Fulton also said that managers make comments that are sometimes "transphobic, homophobic and racist" and they are not held accountable.

Ever since workers voted to unionize two months ago, Jacob Roessler said, there has been an antagonistic relationship with management.

Baristas Mbake Sarr, left, Scott Derosier, and Johanny Garcia picket Monday in front of the East Central Street Starbucks in Worcester.
Baristas Mbake Sarr, left, Scott Derosier, and Johanny Garcia picket Monday in front of the East Central Street Starbucks in Worcester.

"Since we unanimously won our (union) vote on June 3, there has been a clear divide that was set in place by management. Their tone and their actions are very much us-against-you mentality," Roessler said. "Over our chain it has been made very clear that union or not — it has been said multiple times by management — that we will be held accountable. And I'm here personally to demand Starbucks to hold management accountable as they wish to hold us."

Roessler said the workers began discussing plans to strike about a month ago when their new manager began putting them "on edge."

"There was a clear line that I think was built when she came into our store and that line basically said, 'You guys voted to be union, it's now you versus me,' and that was a narrative she perpetuated," Roessler said.

At 4:15 a.m. Monday, 15 minutes before the store was scheduled to open, the workers sent an email to their manager about their intention to strike, he said.

By 9 a.m., the workers had posters and signs draped around their necks and set up shop in the Massachusetts Nurses Association union office located just next door.

Marie Ritacco, vice president of the MNA and a nurse at St. Vincent Hospital, said she was "incredibly excited" to support the picketers.

"They wanted to unionize, and they have unionized, and they have yet to be recognized by the employer in terms of meeting at the table," Ritacco said. "They need to get to the table and negotiate a fair contract with these workers. It is the right and just thing to do."

Other nurses association members were present, offering support to the workers, including coaching them through chants in English and Spanish.

Teamsters Local 170 members also showed up to offer support including Matt Landry, a UPS worker, who said he wanted to stand with the workers in solidarity and show them support.

"I literally just pulled up and grabbed a sign," Landry said. "Just on the pavement. That's what it's all about."

A Local 170 semitruck drove around the Starbucks several times throughout the morning, blaring its horn in support of the workers.

Elected officials offer support

The crowd continued to grow throughout the morning and included state Rep. David LeBoeuf, City Councilor Etel Haxhiaj and School Committee member Sue Mailman, who spoke in support of the workers.

"When people are organizing at the beginning, there is just a lot of unknown and I think for members to know that there is community support for what they're trying to do is very useful," Mailman said. "Let's get going."

Starbucks baristas, from left, Jacob Roessler, Bailey Fulton, Evan Perron and Ali Irbing picketing on Monday morning in Worcester.
Starbucks baristas, from left, Jacob Roessler, Bailey Fulton, Evan Perron and Ali Irbing picketing on Monday morning in Worcester.

Worcester community leaders, such as state Senate candidate Robyn Kennedy and local NAACP President and member of Carpenters Local 336 Fred Taylor also showed up to offer support.

"I'm just here, personally, to stand up and support these folks...if it's wages, benefits or anything I'm just here to support," Taylor said. "I'm labor union leader, so I'm gonna stand up for workers' rights."

Fulton said the East Central Street Starbucks is one of five Starbucks in Massachusetts on strike today. The others are on Commonwealth Avenue and Cleveland Circle in Boston, in Coolidge Corner in Brookline and in Watertown, she said.

Two stores, one in Gardner and one in Reading, are having a "sip-in" instead of a full-blown strike, during which they ask that customers, "order a simple drink, bring a cash tip, and stay a while," to show support to workers who are unionized or in the process of unionizing.

Fulton and Roessler said that, as of Monday morning, they have not received any communication from Starbucks representatives about the strike.

The workers will continue to picket from 9 a.m. until noon each day "until further notice," Fulton said.

"Starbucks does a lot of good for people and it's done a lot of good for me," she said. "Unfortunately, they also do a lot of harm and it's inexcusable the way that they treat us in the stores and act like it's not happening, or that it's not a problem.

"Our union gives us the power to stand up for these behaviors and we're exercising that power."

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Starbucks workers union on strike in East Central Street Worcester