Unionizing Starbucks, Impressed by Bernie Sanders


Starbucks allows employees who work at least 20 hours a week health coverage that’s more generous than most of its competitors, and has announced it will increase the median wage for hourly workers to nearly $17 an hour by this summer, which is well above the industry norm. The company also offers to pay tuition for employees who are eligible for an online bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, helping attract employees with college aspirations.

Such people, in turn, tend to be sympathetic to unions and a variety of social activists. A recent Gallup poll found that people under 35 or liberals were significantly more likely to support unions than other unions.

Several Starbucks workers try to organize unions in Buffalo; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Knoxville, Tennessee; Tallahassee, Florida; and the Denver area seemed to fit that profile, saying they were either strong supporters of Mr. Sanders and other progressive politicians, had gone to college, or both. Most were under 30.

“I was involved in the political organization, the campaign of Bernie Sanders,” said Brick Zurek, a union campaign manager at a Chicago Starbucks. “That gave me a lot of skill.” Mx. Zurek, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, also said they have a bachelor’s degree.

Len Harris, who helped direct a campaign at a Starbucks near Denver, said that “I love the progressivism, the community spirit” of politicians like Mr. Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, admire. She said that she graduated from college and that she is awaiting admissions decisions to grad school.

And most union supporters have drawn inspiration from their Buffalo counterparts. Sydney Durkin and Rachel Ybarra, who help organize a Starbucks in Seattle, said workers at their store discussed the Buffalo campaign almost daily as it unfolded and that the union was contacted after the National Labor Relations Board had announced the first results of the campaign elections in Buffalo in December. (The union’s second victory was announced Monday after the labor committee resolved the election disputes.)

Ms Ybarra said the victory showed workers it was possible to unionize despite opposition from the company. “The Buffalo people became superheroes,” she said. “Many of us have spent so much time fearing retaliation that none of us could afford to lose our jobs, reduce our hours.”