Why Are Starbucks Workers United?

Maggie Carter, a Starbucks barista in Knoxville, Tenn., keeps a stack of union cards with her. Audra Melton for The New York Times

We wrote one time previously about the Starbucks union drive, wondering why Starbucks is against it. We know the typical corporate reasons, but Starbucks has represented itself as atypical. So, we wanted to know. And in related news, the company’s efforts to keep unionization at bay has a new leader. Today we consider a related question, this time from workers’ perspective:

Why a Rhodes Scholar’s Ambition Led Her to a Job at Starbucks

Jaz Brisack became a barista for the same reasons that talented young people have long chosen their career paths: a mix of idealism and ambition.

Most weekend mornings, Jaz Brisack gets up around 5, wills her semiconscious body into a Toyota Prius and winds her way through Buffalo, to the Starbucks on Elmwood Avenue. After a supervisor unlocks the door, she clocks in, checks herself for Covid symptoms and helps get the store ready for customers.

“I’m almost always on bar if I open,” said Ms. Brisack, who has a thrift-store aesthetic and long reddish-brown hair that she parts down the middle. “I like steaming milk, pouring lattes.”

The Starbucks door is not the only one that has been opened for her. As a University of Mississippi senior in 2018, Ms. Brisack was one of 32 Americans who won Rhodes scholarships, which fund study in Oxford, England.

Many students seek the scholarship because it can pave the way to a career in the top ranks of law, academia, government or business. They are motivated by a mix of ambition and idealism.

Ms. Brisack became a barista for similar reasons: She believed it was simply the most urgent claim on her time and her many talents.

When she joined Starbucks in late 2020, not a single one of the company’s 9,000 U.S. locations had a union. Ms. Brisack hoped to change that by helping to unionize its stores in Buffalo.

Improbably, she and her co-workers have far exceeded their goal. Since December, when her store became the only corporate-owned Starbucks in the United States with a certified union, more than 150 other stores have voted to unionize, and more than 275 have filed paperwork to hold elections. Their actions come amid an increase in public support for unions, which last year reached its highest point since the mid-1960s, and a growing consensus among center-left experts that rising union membership could move millions of workers into the middle class…

Read the whole article here.

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