San Antonio is feeling some “y’allidarity” in a local Starbucks this year as the 410 & Vance Jackson location becomes the first in Texas to file for a petition to join the Starbucks Workers United union.
Announced via a written statement posted on the official Twitter account of the Starbucks Workers United Union, @SBWorkersUnited, the San Antonio Starbucks joins the growing number of locations that are unionizing.
Starbucks is a corporation that offers a great deal of employee benefits compared to similar establishments. Some of these benefits include college tuition reimbursement, a county-wide minimum wage of $15 an hour as of 2021 and even full insurance coverage for transition surgery and other transgender health benefits. Despite these perks, employees are rallying together across America and demanding better working conditions and further benefits because of the “essential worker” status they received during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starbucks’ Covid Response
A couple of months into the COVID-19 lockdown, on May 4, 2020, Starbucks chose to re-open their stores, limiting service to either the drive-thru or contact-less curbside delivery to limit the transmission of the virus between employees and customers. While these protocols worked best for Starbucks customers, they did not limit exposure for employees as hoped; those working in-store remained at risk since following social distancing rules is difficult when sharing the same space as their co-workers behind the counter.
While the corporation offered extra compensation to any “healthy and well” employees willing to work, the additional $3 in service pay, along with the catastrophe pay that covers missed time due to a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to the virus, was only good through the end of May of that year. Starbucks U.S. corporation president, Rossann William, released a statement in mid-April of 2020 detailing the corporation’s Covid response moving forward: “As we re-open stores and have work available, we will no longer be able to offer Catastrophe Pay to partners who are unwilling to work after May 3.” She further explained, “We also expect to phase out Catastrophe Pay and Service Pay in June as we return to our normal operations, pay and benefits.”
Underneath all of the promises of both financial and physical protection, Starbucks still only had the corporation’s best interests at heart, especially considering that the COVID-19 vaccine was nowhere close to being released in May and wouldn’t be for the next five months. There was no possible way Starbucks could return to “normal operations” without putting the health of their employees in danger. Whether employees are in good health or are considered high-risk, Starbucks made it clear that they value wealth more than their workforce.
Starbucks Workers United Union
On Aug. 23, 2021, Starbucks Workers United (SWU), a union years in the making, sent a letter signed by 49 store employees to current Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, detailing their intent to form the first Starbucks union in Buffalo, New York. Starbucks refused to recognize the union in good faith despite previous statements made by President Williams. Within the coming months, Williams staked out the three Buffalo-based locations. According to statements made during an interview with organizing committee member Brian Murray, President Williams even went out of her way to monitor stores in person, confronting and singling out employees wearing union pins, using management to spy on employees, firing employees and hosting two to three captive audience meetings a day to “separate pro-union workers from everyone else.”
In response, Starbucks launched a website called “We Are One Starbucks” earlier this year. Upon release, employees and union supporters accused the site of disseminating anti-union rhetoric in order to justify the corporation’s refusal to work alongside the SWU union. The website specifically targets the Memphis location where Starbucks fired seven employees for attempting to organize.
In the Frequently Asked Questions section of the website, the last question reads: “Can partners lose their jobs if they try to organize a store?” Starbucks’ response begins with: “No, we have never separated a partner for organizing, and we wouldn’t”; however, in one instance in 2010 in Manhattan and again in 2021 with a Philadelphia-based store, the National Labor Relations Board placed Starbucks under investigation for “unlawfully retaliating” against workers. Those employees attempted to form a union but Starbucks fired them after, by the corporation’s own admission, listening in on their conversations at work and stalking their social media accounts.
San Antonio Starbucks First in Texas to Join SWU
On Feb. 7, the San Antonio 410 & Vance Jackson location announced their choice to unionize through the SWU Twitter account, making their store the first in all of Texas to do so. In the announcement letter signed by nine employees, they explain their decision by stating: “During unpredictable crisis our store went above and beyond to provide for one another” and “We work hard to provide consistency and connection with our customers— now it’s time for Starbucks to connect with our homes and our realities.”
One 410 & Vance Jackson employee, Gaz Garcia, tweeted on the night of the store’s announcement a similar message made by almost every union-bound store: “As essential workers we have essential needs in order to care for and service this community we love that we will fight for.” These statements were followed by supportive comments from the San Antonio community.
Since then, countless other stores from around the country have joined the SWU, all with the same purpose in mind — unionizing not for the purpose of bringing down Starbucks, but to improve upon the benefits employees already receive.
Future of the SWU
As of Feb. 16, 97 stores have officially joined the SWU union, the previous being the first Starbucks in Oklahoma to file for a petition. There is no doubt the SWU will continue to grow as more workers realize the benefits of unionizing. Although Starbucks shows no signs of budging, for the sake of their progressive image — especially during a time when workers are less willing to put up with toxic workplaces — customers and employees alike hope that the corporation takes this chance to prove that they really do care for their “partners.”
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