Stop Starbucks

By Anna Almendrala 5-27-2009

When Robert Greenwald, founder and president of Brave New Films -- an organization that uses new media and internet video campaigns to take action on social issues nationwide -- first told us that our next campaign was going to be about Starbucks, a lot of us here were very surprised.

We've all had the "Starbucks experience" -- smooth folksy music, leather couches, community book shelves, luxury drinks, and cheerful barista service. It just feels good to be inside a Starbucks, and why shouldn't it? All around the store are signals that coffee makers and drinkers are part of a blissful, ethical community where everyone is taken care of with health care and dignity on the job. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says that workers should "believe in their hearts that management trusted them and treated them with respect ... If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn't need a union."

I'm not naive enough to believe that a transnational mega corporation truly is all that it claims to be, but when our production teams started investigating Starbucks' corporate response to coffee roaster and barista unions, I was shocked. Starbucks has forced store managers to work overtime without pay, fired people for talking about a union, discriminated in hiring against people with a past union affiliation, and is lobbying hard against the passage of EFCA. Oh, and those health benefits for "partners" they make a big deal about? You need to work 240 hours a quarter to be eligible - and anyone who has worked retail or service jobs part-time knows that we have almost no control over the amount of hours that are set for us. Just to put it in perspective, Starbucks insures less than 42 percent of its workers -- while Wal-Mart insures 47 percent.

If you want to work full-time for Starbucks, you have to make yourself available 80.5 hours of the week. Daniel Gross, a founding member of the Starbucks union, describes the full-time scheduling like this: "Starbucks can schedule you on any day, at any time within those hours ... How are you supposed to get a second job or plan for child care if you have to be available 80.5 hours?" To learn more about these issues, visit the Stop Starbucks truth page.

Firing people for organizing is not an employer's right -- it's against federal law. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz likes to remind people that he grew up poor in New York, and that his father never made more than $20,000 a year. His father probably could have used a union. Watch the video and sign the memo to CEO Howard Schultz demanding that he allow his workers to form unions here at Stop Starbucks.

Anna Almendrala was a Sojourners intern from 2007-2008. She now lives in Los Angeles, California, and works for Brave New Foundation as the Marketing & Distribution associate. Follow her on Twitter to keep updated on the Stop Starbucks campaign.

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