Here are 3 ways to support Utah Starbucks workers who want to unionize

When Kat Howard was a high school student working at a Starbucks in Riverton, she was happy with what she was making.

But now that she’s trying to make a living by working full-time at a Starbucks in Salt Lake City while attending the University of Utah, the salary isn’t enough to cover her expenses, and the inconsistent hours aren’t to manage something.

Howard had to take a second job — and last week she and her colleagues joined the Red Cup Rebellion, part of a nationwide workers’ strike at more than 100 stores across the country on the busy day Starbucks gave away free reusable red cups.

Organizers say Starbucks is not cooperating in drafting a union contract. The company did not respond to a request for comment on the protest, but denies any wrongdoing.

Here are three things Utah Starbucks workers seeking union representation are asking consumers to do during the holiday season to support them.

1. Boycott Starbucks and sign the “No Contract, No Coffee” pledge

The Starbucks Workers Union has an online pledge where supporters can sign up to say they will not buy from Starbucks until the company agrees to a union agreement. The company typically sees a surge in sales during the holidays, and the boycott is meant to pressure management to negotiate.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Starbucks workers are on strike outside the 400 South location in Salt Lake City as part of the Red Cup Rebellion that took place across the country on Thursday, November 17, 2022. George Metos takes center stage.

Howard, a barista at the Starbucks store at 421 E. 400 South, was inspired to join the Starbucks Union Committee by the first few locations to unionize in Buffalo beginning in late 2021.

[Read more: ‘I am overjoyed’: Cottonwood Heights Starbucks employees officially unionize]

Working conditions at Starbucks and similar customer service jobs often get less attention because they’re viewed as temporary jobs, Howard said, but that’s not the case for many employees.

Kit Grob, shift manager and union organizer at 4th and 4th locations, has worked for Starbucks for three and a half years. Workers are hoping for better pay, benefits and more consistent working hours, Grob said, but the main aim of last week’s protest was “to have a say in our working conditions”.

It also addressed labor rights violations alleged by workers, she said, including her allegation that Starbucks refuses to negotiate in good faith.

“My store was one of the few stores that actually got as far as setting up a negotiation meeting in early November,” Grob said.

“And the Starbucks attorneys walked in and out of the room within 40 seconds,” she said.

(Courtesy Photo) Starbucks Union organizers Kit Grob, left, and Kat Howard, right, go on strike at Starbucks at 400 South on November 17, 2022 in Salt Lake City.

Grob said she was not aware of any plans for a new date.

Lawyers said they were concerned they could be recorded by attendees speaking on Zoom, she said.

AJ Jones, Starbucks executive vice president of communications, told NPR that “nothing could be further from the truth” than claims that Starbucks officials have walked out on or delayed union meetings.

Jones said the union organizers wanted to record the talks, which he said would violate the National Labor Relations Act. Organizers said they were only interested in having remote attendees at the meetings.

Other allegations of labor rights violations being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board include “taking down posters, intimidating workers and illegally firing employees for unionization,” Grob said.

And more than 80 Starbucks employees have accused the company of illegally firing them for unionizing, Grob said. Some have received refunds as a result of NLRB investigations; The NLRB has also alleged that Starbucks illegally withheld pay rises from unionized employees, the Washington Post reported.

The company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, announced that a series of pay increases and benefits announced in May would only go to non-union locations, NPR reported. Starbucks argues that it appropriately limits pay increases to non-union stores.

In Utah, Starbucks’ Cottonwood Heights location voted to unionize in June. A union leader there, Jacob Lawson, is one of the workers who has complained to the NLRB, arguing that he was illegally fired.

Regarding Lawson, the company told The Salt Lake Tribune, “This individual is no longer with Starbucks for violating company policies — including defacing company property and conduct that is inconsistent with our mission and values.”

2. Talk to your local Starbucks representative

In his experience, Lawson said, Starbucks is “really good at scaring people.” So for customers who don’t want to boycott but support unionization, “the community can help us by educating their baristas — tell them not to fear the union,” he said.

(Jacob Lawson) Jacob Lawson, left, a former shift supervisor and member of the organizing committee at Cottonwood Heights Starbucks who voted to organize, protested with workers at the 400 South store in Salt Lake City on November 17, 2022.

“If you go to Starbucks, talk to the employees,” Grob agreed, suggesting letting those who haven’t unionized know that you would support the decision.

Howard said she was surprised to learn “how many people really just didn’t know what a union was.”

Since her unionization at Starbucks, she says, workers at other companies in the Salt Lake City area have reached out to her and other store workers to ask how they can organize their own unions.

3. Get involved

The No Contract, No Coffee pledge is also a means to sign up for notifications of “rallies, pickets, and other events in my area,” the site says, so supporters can show up in support of Starbucks employees.

During Thursday’s protests, some supporters held up signs or brought food to protesters in Salt Lake City.

There is also a GoFundMe page supporting Starbucks workers that links to Starbucks Workers United Utah Twitter page.

Grob said as far as she knows no one in the 4th and 4th store makes a living wage for Salt Lake City.

Howard would like to see Starbucks pay a higher price when stores are routinely understaffed, which puts pressure on fewer workers, she said.

“Starbucks can keep all the money they saved” to pay fewer workers, but people work “twice as hard,” she said.

In the time Grob has worked at Starbucks, she said, “there’s been so many changes, and a lot of them aren’t very well thought out.” Company executives, she said, “don’t really understand what it’s like to be on the ground floor be.”

Leto Sapunar is a report for members of the America Corps covering corporate responsibility and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation of our RFA grant helps him write stories like this; Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here. Here are 3 ways to support Utah Starbucks workers who want to unionize

Justin Scacco

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