Starbucks has long claimed to be a “different kind of company”—one that cares about the health, safety, and well being of its workers nationwide. It doesn’t even call us workers, it call us “partners,” saying that we’re all in this together. Starbucks executives go so far as to claim that we’re a family. But if that’s the case, this is the most dysfunctional family I’ve ever seen.
I started working at Starbucks over nine years ago as a day job to support my theater career. Little did I know, I would fall in love with this job. I thrive in the fast-paced environment, adore my colleagues, and genuinely appreciate the human connection I have with the hundreds of people who walk through our doors every day.
What I didn’t realize is that this job would also bring me a lifetime of medical bills and surgeries. While working in 2018, I started experiencing a sharp pain in my hip. Due to short staffing and the fact that I didn’t “look sick,” my manager rejected my request for time off to heal.
I continued working through the pain for two weeks before it became too much to bear. One morning, I called an ambulance from work to take me to the ER, where I was diagnosed with a serious fracture and rushed into emergency surgery. What had started as a minor stress fracture escalated to a clean break through the bone, due to the continual physical demands of my job and my inability to take time off to rest. I was out of work for four months, but the chronic pain and medical bills endured.
In 2021, I started hearing about my coworkers’ organizing nationwide, and watched their fight for fair treatment on TV and in the papers. I thought back to the day of my emergency surgery and about how much I needed a voice on the job through a union. I thought to myself, “that’s exactly what I want to do here in Seattle.”
Starbucks workers are the heart and soul of this company. We’re the ones who keep our stores running. We remember our customers’ regular orders, make the lattes, clean up spills, and are often the bright spot of our customers’ days. That’s why I was so disappointed to see leadership’s response to our union drive.
Management is out of touch with the needs of workers, which is why we want to join them at the bargaining table to discuss our demands. Starbucks has only tarnished its brand as a progressive company with its unprecedented union-busting campaign. I witnessed it myself, having been unfairly targeted with frivolous write-ups and seeing partners I worked with get fired for organizing their stores.
In all the corporate talking points and posturing, the core of our fight has gotten lost: we are asking for the bare minimum. We are on the front lines fighting for basic human rights, including the ability to work in a safe, secure, and respectful workplace; a living wage with consistent scheduling; fairness, equity, and the right to organize free from fear, intimidation, or coercion.
No worker deserves the treatment I endured on the job. I know that the challenges I faced could have been mitigated with adequate staffing and collective action. I was talking to my manager as soon as I hung up the phone with 911, fighting through my tears and the pain in my hip to ask for additional support. With a voice on the job, I would have been able to advocate for myself at a higher level in order to prevent this crisis from happening.
My experience is not unique. The more connected I became with workers nationwide, the more I understood these challenges are systemic. I’ve heard stories of homeless coworkers being late to work because they were unable to charge their phones while sleeping at the bus stop, only to be fired on the spot. We give so much to this company, and we deserve better.
I joined hundreds of Starbucks workers in protest last week—the day before the company’s shareholder meeting—because I know a brighter future for this company is possible. My coworkers know it too. Since December 2021, more than 7,500 Starbucks partners have organized 285 stores, calling for Starbucks to uphold the forward-thinking values it claims to stand for, respect our fundamental right to organize, and bargain a fair contract.
I love Starbucks, but I am so disheartened to see how hard leadership has fought against our efforts to join a union. Starbucks’ union-busting campaign is breaking the law. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued dozens of official complaints against Starbucks, encompassing more than 215 charges and 1,300 alleged violations of labor law. Six times, NLRB judges have found the company committed more than a hundred violations against workers. I thought the company was better than this.
The recent actions of this corporation don’t embody our values, but as partners at Starbucks we live those values every day. We need better treatment from a company to which we give so much. Starbucks should respect our right to organize and meet us at the bargaining table.
And to our new CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, I say this: we the workers, we the partners, we are Starbucks. You have an opportunity to join us and make Starbucks the company we know it can be.
Sarah Pappin is a Starbucks worker from Seattle, Washington.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
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