Labor, Democracy & the Common Good

Newly unionized Ansley Mall and Howell Mill Starbucks workers held sip-ins on Labor Day to build public support for their campaign to win a contract with management.

Customers showed their solidarity by using phrases like “Union Yes” or “Union Strong” instead of their names when they ordered coffee. That way, employees could call out the supportive phrases without violating any workplace protocols. 

The unionized baristas also asked customers to sign a  “No Contract, No Coffee” pledge, which says: “I commit to participating in the actions called for by Starbucks Workers United.” Signers receive notifications of local union actions, such as sip-ins, demonstrations, or strikes. 

The Atlanta sip-ins were part of a national Starbucks Workers United campaign to win a contract for all 225 unionized Starbucks stores. 

Labor Day customers at the Howell Mill and Ansley Mall stores were receptive. At Howell Mill, about 50 supporters joined the sip-in within just 30 minutes of its 1:30 p.m. kick-off, and at the Ansley Mall sip-in, about 40 supporters quickly joined in after it started at 3 p.m.

 “These sort of events are really good for shop floor morale,” said Owen Hunt, an Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America member, who helped organize the Howell Mill sip-in. “It shows that the community supports the workers and keeps them going. Because that’s what really kills a lot of labor organizing.” 

The sip-in organizers aim to rally public support as a pressure tactic to bring Starbucks to the negotiating table, while keeping workers’ morale high in the interim. The Atlanta DSA joined Starbucks Workers United to organize the Howell Mill sip-in, while the New Georgia Project helped to organize the one at Ansley Mall. 

Ansley Mall sip-in attendees pack the store on Labor Day. Photo by Kendall Glynn.

The danger of delays

Atlanta DSA members, who’ve been working closely with the Howell Mill Starbucks baristas for months, say the sip-ins and other actions are crucial to the long-term organizing it will take to win a contract in the face of Starbucks management’s stalling tactics. 

Both the Howell Mill and Ansley Mall workers have been trying to bring Starbucks to the negotiating table since they unionized in June, but neither location has received a response. The Howell Mill store staged a one-day strike in July to apply further pressure.  

By using the “No Contract, No Coffee” pledge to build a rapid-action network, the union organizers aim to build public support for the national campaign to win a contract over the long haul, Starbucks Workers United’s national field director, Daisy Pitkin, told Labor Notes. “It says we’re going to follow the lead of workers, and we’re going to support them in the way they’re asking for support,” she said.

Timing is of the essence in the campaign to win a contract. Workers don’t want to lose momentum – and that momentum is more important than ever since the first Starbucks stores voted to unionize last December.

After a year, stores that have won an election can vote to decertify their unions. This means that they can potentially dissolve their union without ever agreeing to a contract – or even negotiating with management. 

It’s a common tactic for management to stall until this one-year mark and then push for decertification, Pitkin told Labor Notes.“They’re counting on the idea that there’s not going to be enough community solidarity to really stand up to their bullying, and that they’re going to be able to quash the campaign and wait it out – and then decertify stores,” she said. 

One of the lead organizers for the Ansley Mall story, shift supervisor Nick Julian, began the day at the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council’s Labor Day celebration before joining the two sip-ins. 

There, he spoke to fellow union members from around the state about the need for solidarity to combat corporate greed. “Howard Schultz and Starbucks made $940 million during the pandemic,” said Julian. “That’s enough to give every [Starbucks] partner in the country $3800. That’s bills, that’s rent, that’s food.” 

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