From beans to bargaining: Baristas organize for unionization | Notes on the Valley | Monith Ilavarasan | |

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By Monith Ilavarasan

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About this blog: My parents, brother, and I moved to Pleasanton when I was in the seventh grade. I then graduated from Amador Valley High School, went to college at UC Davis and started out a career in tech. After several years working in large co...  (More)

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From beans to bargaining: Baristas organize for unionization

Uploaded: Apr 19, 2023
It took me a few months to finally try out the espresso machine at work. Right next to the drip coffee brewed once at seven in the morning is a beautiful Simonelli Appia machine. For months I would walk past and be intimidated by all the different bells and whistles.

I finally mustered up the courage to ask around if anybody knew how to actually use the machine. Someone volunteered to walk me through the steps and I was hooked. Every day before going into the office I would watch youtube videos to learn how to pull the perfect shot.

I’ve never thought of myself as a coffee snob. Over the years I’ve cultivated a taste for burnt diner coffee. I would never even think to grab the occasional latte. I’ve been told that cutting out the occasional coffee & avocado toast should put me on the pathway to one day owning a home. Just have 25,000 more lattes to skip before I can put a down payment on my next house.

After a few months of pulling watery shots and scalding my milk I finally hit a milestone last week. In fact, last week saw two big milestones in my local coffee world. I finally made a passable latte and the Pleasanton Starbucks workers voted to unionize their store.

Last week workers at the Starbucks store in downtown Pleasanton approved unionization in an 8-4 vote. This makes the store the 19th in California to gain union representation and it joins the over 250 Starbucks locations across the United States which have voted to unionize.

In addition to overall higher wages, a key demand from workers across all locations is guaranteed hours, predictable schedules, and adequate staffing. Starbucks profit has been increasing year over year and their stock price is up over 16% from pre-pandemic prices. One of the key drivers to this increased profit margin is by cutting employee hours and pushing individuals to do the work of multiple people.

Starbucks has had a history of offering great benefits to its full time workers. These benefits include health care and partial college tuition reimbursement. By cutting hours, Starbucks has the ability to pull employees below the minimum required hours needed to qualify for these benefits. Individuals who chose to work for the company under those initial promises are left behind.

This increased profit & stock price gain is not shared evenly throughout the partners which make up Starbucks. Although frontline workers are granted a small portion of stock after two continuous years of service, the vast majority of these gains are captured by those up the management chain and in corporate.

In order to preserve their ability to suppress worker benefits and increase topline profits, Starbucks has led one of the most aggressive union busting drives in recent history. They quickly move to close down stores where unionization efforts start and aim to fire key employees leading efforts.

According to the NLRB, on March 1, 2023, NLRB Administrative Law Judge Michael A. Rosas issued a decision finding Starbucks had violated the National Labor Relations Act hundreds of times to affect workers’ organizing efforts through “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights. Rosas determined that Starbucks illegally disciplined and fired employees "in response to union activity."

The issues around consistent staffing are felt right here in the downtown Pleasanton store. According to reporting by NBC Bay Area, shift supervisor Natasha Fields said she is left with just one of two crew members on the late morning to evening shift when upwards of 70 school children come in during the rush at the Pleasanton store.

Many workers have chosen to grow careers at the company and others are working in addition to pursuing a higher education. For both, a consistent livable wage is the only thing that allows them to live while pursuing greater advancement in life.

To be completely honest, I don’t think any coffee snob (or wannabee coffee snob like myself) has a particular high opinion of Starbucks. The store’s more traditional drinks are underrated, but they are most known for making what is essentially caffeinated milkshakes. There does appear to be a strong market for these, and I’m glad the workers making them now get a stronger say in their livelihoods.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Joe V, a resident of Birdland,
on Apr 21, 2023 at 12:02 pm

Joe V is a registered user.

A thorough explanation why a clear majority of the employees chose representation by the union.

Posted by Harrison Tamaki, a resident of Danville,
on Apr 23, 2023 at 9:02 am

Harrison Tamaki is a registered user.

Many of the Starbucks baristas are college-educated people who chose non-vocational majors (i.e. philosophy, social science, fine arts etc.) instead of more practical majors that involved lower division mathematics, chemistry, and physics coursework.

That is why they are preparing coffee for more successful individuals.

If Starbucks has to increase their prices to accommodate overeducated coffee makers, sales will decline.

Posted by Von Dennison, a resident of another community,
on Apr 24, 2023 at 8:26 am

Von Dennison is a registered user.

Is Peet's unionized as well?

All things considered, after a 1-2 weeks of supervised training, nearly anyone can prepare coffee, lattes, and capuchinos.

Unlike a skilled bartender, being a barista is not a highly-specialized or truly professional job.

Posted by BookWorm, a resident of Danville,
on Apr 25, 2023 at 4:37 pm

BookWorm is a registered user.

"Unlike a skilled bartender, being a barista is not a highly-specialized or truly professional job."

Sushi-makers are more skilled than coffee baristas as are street food vendors in Mexico...both of whom are not clamouring for more entitlements.

Posted by Bay Area Native, a resident of Pleasanton Valley,
on Apr 25, 2023 at 4:42 pm

Bay Area Native is a registered user.

"Starbucks has had a history of offering great benefits to its full time workers." In fact Starbucks offers benefits to employees who work only 20 hours per week. They are an outlier and an odd target for unionization. Unions should provide comparable benefits to their own employees if they truly support workers' rights.

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