Labor, Democracy & the Common Good

Newly unionized Starbucks workers in Atlanta are bulking up their strike relief fund as they brace for what they say could likely be bruising contract negotiations with Starbucks. 

The Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America and the local Starbucks union threw a fundraising concert last weekend that raised another $1,000 for a workers’ relief fund, along with $2,000 through a GoFundMe online fundraiser (double its $1,000 goal). 

Called “Daddy’s On Strike!!!” the Oct. 7 event featured local bands for a “night of music, moshing and art.” No Tomorrow in Underground Atlanta offered their space and local bands like Equal Creatures and Alley Rainy played for free.

Organizers said the strike fund will support workers at the two unionized coffee shops in Atlanta in case of a strike or retaliation from Starbucks–whether by cutting hours or other tactics. An Augusta store was the first to unionize in April, followed by Atlanta’s Howell Mill and Ansley Mall stores in June. The Atlanta relief fund is only being utilized for workers at the Howell Mill and Ansley Mall stores, but a broader Georgia fund may materialize at a later date. 

“We asked the workers what they need most, and they said they absolutely needed the relief fund to oppose retaliation from management,” said Atlanta DSA co-chair Kelsea Bond. 

“As co-workers, we are in this together, regardless,” said Nick Julian, a shift supervisor and lead organizer at Ansley Mall Starbucks. “The funds are a means of ensuring all of our workers are fairly compensated if they were scheduled to work, but couldn’t because of an action.” 

This is the second concert that Atlanta DSA has organized for the Starbucks worker relief fund–and Bond said more are in the works. Atlanta DSA members planned the show and staffed the venue with help from local Starbucks Workers United members. 

Bond said about 150 people attended the concert, including supporters who paid $10 each and baristas, who got in free. “We wanted to generally raise awareness of the work and efforts to bargain being taken on by these workers,” she said. “[The concert] also serves as a morale booster and a show of community support.”  

Strikes, sip-ins–and a contract? 

Workers at the Howell Mill and Ansley Mall stores have held a strike and a sip-in apiece since unionizing to protest working conditions and push Starbucks to the negotiating table. Workers and organizers for both stores told Atlanta Civic Circle at Sept. 5 Labor Day sip-ins that Starbucks had not responded to their letters asking to start contract negotiations. 

Starbucks announced Sept. 26 that it had sent letters to 234 unionized stores nationally offering a three-week window in October to hammer out a contract–including the Ansley Mall and Howell Mill stores.

But Ansley Mall workers didn’t know Starbucks had included them in the offer when they spoke to Atlanta Civic Circle at their one-day strike Sept. 29 for National Coffee Day, following a similar strike by the Howell Mill store in July. They later learned the coffee empire had sent the Ansley Mall and Howell Mill stores’ letters to Starbucks Workers’ United’s local lawyer. 

If negotiations don’t happen or stall, workers could turn to more direct actions to further pressure Starbucks to hammer out a deal. The relief fund makes these actions possible by giving the workers leverage and some peace of mind, organizers told Atlanta Civic Circle

“The fund shows broadly that there’s community support for this work,” says Camden Mitchell, Starbucks Workers’ United’s southern region liaison. “They’re standing in solidarity with the workers and respecting the fight.” 

Mitchell said the Atlanta relief fund supplements a national relief fund that Starbucks Workers’ United started in early summer. 

The national fund launched with $1 million dollars and has received contributions from several other labor rights organizations and allied groups, but Mitchell said it only covers 70% of workers’ lost wages if there’s a strike or Starbucks cuts hours. 

“70 percent of ‘barely enough’ isn’t enough,” he said, so local relief funds bridge the gap and cover the other 30% of lost wages.  The local funds also have more latitude because they’re being provided by local sources, rather than the national union.

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