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Workforce

Starbucks union provides organizers with a financial safety net

A new assistance pool is intended to reassure baristas that pro-union activity won't cost them income.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Starbucks employees and outside advocates of their unionization drive have created a fund to support baristas who lose income because of their organizing efforts.

The money is specifically intended to help workers who may be fired, laid off because of closures or had their hours cut in retaliation for pushing for union representation. Funds will be dispersed starting this fall at the direction of a committee consisting of Starbucks workers. That administrative group will set the criteria in coming weeks, according to Starbucks Workers United (SWU), the group that now represents the staffs of 200 Starbucks units.

The SWU has accused Starbucks of dismissing 50 employees because of their support for unionizing. In addition, it has accused the corporation of putting dozens more out of work by shutting their stores rather than allowing them to operate as union shops.

Starbucks has maintained that it has not engaged in union-busting and has not violated federal regulations governing the unionization process.

The Starbucks’ Workers Fund will be replenished by contributions from employees and the general public, according to the SWU.

It noted that support will also come from the Solidarity Fund by Coworkers, a group that provides financial assistance to union organizers across multiple industries. SWU did not reveal if that support would be financial, administrative or both.

Having a resource like the Starbucks’ Workers Fund is intended to provide security to baristas who fear their income will fall if they antagonize the company by pushing for union representation.

The pool of support is distinct from a $1 million strike fund that was formed in late spring by Workers United, the parent of SWU and an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, the nation’s second largest union. That kitty is reserved for providing baristas with a steady income if they should go on strike. It is intended to provide the workers with leverage as they negotiate new labor contracts with Starbucks through SWU.  

Contract negotiations are currently underway in Buffalo, N.Y., where the coffee chain’s unionization drive began last August. Two units there voted to form the initial chapters of SWU in December.

The organization effort has now turned 200 Starbucks units into union shops, with dozens more waiting to hold a staff vote on being represented by SWU.

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