Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Mocha-Makers of the World, Unite!

18. June 2004 • Ari Paul
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Starbucks employees in NYC have formed a union with the Industrial Workers of the World, an anarchist union that shuns the often top-down style of unions in the AFL-CIO.

With now three Starbucks in Ann Arbor, and a IWW campaign to organize the McDonald’s of coffeehouses already underway, it would be interesting if the Ann Arbor Starbucks wage slaves have the same grievences as their comrades in NYC.

The IWW wants:


If you are an Ann Arbor Starbucks worker, or a Starbucks worker anywhere for that matter, and you are interested in improving your workplace, here’s how you get started.

  1. I used to work for the Bucks. The money was fine, and tips made it even better. As a company, the Bucks has some quite nice benefits for employees, such as medical/dental for part timers, same sex partner benefits, etc. The working conditions are fine. Unless you want to see Starbucks charge $6 for a cup of joe, there is no need for unionization.
       —Paco    Jun. 18 '04 - 05:00AM    #
  2. From what i’ve heard, i’d agree, working in Starbucks isnt too bad… but i would guess that it depends on who you are directly working for.

    Regardless, why does this constitute a reason for not unionizing?
       —Lynn    Jun. 18 '04 - 08:37AM    #
  3. Eh. If it’s not a top down union, the benefit of not being at-will is decent enough to justify a dollar or two a month in dues. I agree that Starbucks is far better than most coffee shops, but hey, if they raise their prices significantly they’ll be using the union as an excuse, not as a reason.
    And some folks already pay $6 for a cuppa.
       —js    Jun. 18 '04 - 10:06AM    #
  4. I used to work for Panera Bread; places like that and Starbucks pay very well when you consider the level of education and difficulty of work most employees bring to the table.

    Starbucks doesn’t exactly require an MBA and the job is one that anyone off the street could do; a union may only hurt the cause because it will bring to the attention of many people just how little those workers mean to the company and the need for at-will employment – to make sure that workers who add little value can’t sucker their job into paying overly high wages by threatning to unionize.

    There should certainly always be the opportunity for upward mobility at a job, but the idea that these people are entitled to high wages simply because they work for Starbucks isn’t one which will serve its workers well, for reasons listed above.
       —James Dickson    Jun. 18 '04 - 11:08AM    #
  5. James,

    I’m not sure I’m seeing your point. Unions aren’t just about securing better wages. If most of the workers (i.e., the union) think wages are fair for the work they do, they’re not going to push hard for increases. That doesn’t mean a union isn’t worth it for them—there are always plenty of other issues that come up on the job, and having a union gives you individual and collective recourse for addressing problems with a work situation (beyond simply quitting or the courts) without fear of being fired without cause (which was Josh’s point).
       —Scott T.    Jun. 18 '04 - 11:28AM    #
  6. James, how well Starbucks employees are paid/treated doesn’t seem to me to have much bearing on whether or not they should organize. When you speak of the “need for at-will employment”, are you referring to Starbucks’ need? Certainly not the employees’.

    There’s always a check on unionized labor—if the company really does have good pay and good working conditions, striking unionized workers can be replaced easily. A union encourages a company to treat its employees well enough that it can easily get new ones, thereby benefitting even the replacement workers.
       —Murph    Jun. 18 '04 - 11:29AM    #
  7. There is a union in the area that has a garantee of X% raise a year, just a few but its garanteed. Well, my friend who works there calls it the anti-work union. Because you can’t get more the X% and everyone gets the same X% if they work hard or if they slack, no motovation to perform well and get rewarded.

    No- that doesn’t mean all unions are bad, or that I’m anti-union. I’ve never been a part of one, and that is the feedback that I have from friends who do.

    I guess a good questions is, where and when do we need unions? Should every company have them? Or just places with over say 100 workers?

    Also, I’ve heard before that Starbucks is a good employer, is it possible that a national union would change that to the point that people wouldn’t want to work there anymore.

    I know that many coporations now have the attitude of treating the employees so well that they won’t want a union. No not the majority, but I belive that is the current philosophy behind the starbucks human resources plan, if there is a union, they may change that plan.
       —Just a Voice    Jun. 18 '04 - 12:48PM    #
  8. JaV, for any form of organization, including for-profit corporations and labor unions, there are good implementations and bad implementations. The effect you mention is a symptom of a bad implementation, not a fatal flaw in the concept “labor union”.

    I know that Whole Foods subscribes to the “you don’t need to unionize—we’re too nice to you” guilt-trip style of anti-union activity. A little googling will show you that their employees don’t necessarily agree that life is so great.
       —Murph    Jun. 18 '04 - 01:30PM    #
  9. I, too, used to work for Starbucks. Depending on who your store manager was, it was either really good or really bad. Mine was good.

    But, it can get awfully busy in Starbucks. While any “Joe off the street” could work there, the fact is that sometimes it can be very busy. I doubt workers are asking for $100,000 a year plus a pension, but a slight increase in pay in especially high traffic stores always sounds reasonable.
       —Jared Goldberg    Jun. 18 '04 - 01:55PM    #
  10. When I was doing strike support for the Borders workers, I ran into several Starbucks employees who wanted a union in their store.

    A union is simply an organization for people to organize around the issues they have on the job.

    And Murph – it is true in this country that corporations can get away with hiring replacement workers (read scab labor) for striking workers, it isn’t a highlight of the USA’s human rights record. Most countries that are considered “advanced” do not allow that kind of unequal power.

    In my humble opinion, All workers should be in a union, the One Big Union.
       —Mark    Jun. 18 '04 - 01:56PM    #
  11. Supporting unions is like registering to vote—sure you don’t necessarily have a specific agenda in mind, but it’s still a good institution to take part in.

    I don’t think it’s valid to say that you should only organize once there is a clear and imminent threat. An ounce of prevention, as they say..
       —Eric Goldberg    Jun. 18 '04 - 03:12PM    #