This Labor Day, Starbucks Workers Are Hosting Pro-Union “Sip-Ins” Across the U.S.
To commemorate Labor Day, Starbucks workers are planning actions at stores around the country—part of the growing campaign to organize the coffee chain.
This Labor Day weekend, Starbucks workers across the country will be rolling out the red carpet to their supporters. About 100 of the coffee chain’s stores are set to hold “sip-ins” from Friday, Sept. 2 to Monday, Sept. 5. (To see a map of locations, click here, and for a full list, click here.)
Sip-ins are loosely modeled after sit-ins, and mark designated times when supporters of a store are asked to come in, order low-priced drinks or water, and leave big tips. The events provide an opportunity for baristas and their supporters to engage in conversation about labor conditions and build community.
“I’m a little nervous, but we’re excited,” said Samantha Shields, a 21-year-old barista at a Starbucks store in Washington, D.C. Her store filed to unionize in late August and is the first to organize in the city. She’s worried about retaliation as a result, she told In These Times.
Meanwhile, several stores will also be on strike. Additionally, in several large cities, other major events are also scheduled, pointing to a more expansive vision of what the nascent union can do for Labor Day.
In Boston, a labor rally, a rank-and-file breakfast, and a reproductive justice rally will precede sip-ins on Labor Day. Starbucks workers are also rallying at the state capitals of Oklahoma and Texas. And Colorado baristas will converge on a Labor Day parade in Louisville in remembrance of the early 20th century Coal Wars, says fired Denver barista Ryan Dinaro, 23.
“The goal of this [day of] action is to empower workers on Labor Day, it’s to send a message to Starbucks that they couldn’t run their business without us, and they need to be held accountable,” says Collin Pollitt, a barista in Oklahoma City.
On Monday evening, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union behind the organizing effort, is planning to host a web-based event for attendees of Labor Day events to have an opportunity to tune in so they can watch and discuss together.
“We’re not only building a movement for Starbucks workers, we’re building a cohesive labor movement,” says Tyler DaGuerre, a 27-year-old Boston barista.
The array of different types of events, dominated by the sip-ins, reflects both the desire for coordinated action and the roles that different actors are playing in the SBWU-backed movement.
Conversation about SBWU’s Labor Day plans began in the early summer. Individual leaders in the Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and New England regions of SBWU including Pollitt, Dinaro, and DaGuerre, respectively, are among those who helped create the iteration that now exists. They eventually did so as part of SBWU’s National Contract Action Team, the body charged with planning escalating direct actions to pressure Starbucks to negotiate a first contract. Workers United, the parent union for SBWU, first introduced the idea of a broad wave of sip-ins, which then received broad support from workers.
Workers in some cities have also hinted at more militant events to follow in the days and weeks to come after Labor Day, noting that the next few months are Starbucks’ high season, though details were not yet available.
In the Boston area, the day’s events are themed around intersectionality, with a focus on reproductive rights, among other issues. “So long as we’re upholding one system of oppression, we’re therefore justifying our own,” says DaGuerre. “So it really needs to be a collective movement of intersectional solidarity.”
In Oklahoma, Pollitt was mindful of the need to make Labor Day relevant to today’s workers and also emphasized intersectionality. He wants to “spark a national discussion about labor” after what he describes as decades of stagnation. In Pollitt’s state, workers are gathering at the state capitol.
Boosting community support is a key aim of the sip-ins. SBWU has a goal of gathering 30,000 signatures to its “No Contract, No Coffee” solidarity campaign over the course of the weekend.
Such support often, but not exclusively, comes from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members and chapters. For example, Worcester DSA member and barista Cory Bisbee, 25, told In These Times that his chapter has made supporting the SBWU campaign a priority. That city will see a LGBTQ+-themed sip-in, with Labor Day coinciding with Pride week in Worcester, Mass.
An outcome of the planning in the New England region, says DaGuerre, is that stores seeking support have been matched up with community supporters looking to “adopt” a store to help it organize, taking advantage of resources that were already there but uncoordinated.
Not every store is able to take part in the day of action. Because much of the national plan depends on community support, many workers in more isolated locations likely won’t be able to participate. Others, like the Anderson store in South Carolina where workers are suspended and barred from entering any Starbucks, have to take into account the impact of previous union-busting tactics by the company.
But for those who are able to participate, some see it as an opportunity to step up their impact in the innovative campaign to unionize Starbucks.
“A bunch of Gen Z kids have banded together and decided to stop accepting that Starbucks will refuse to pay us a living wage,” says Dinaro. “It’s truly inspiring and it’s a stepping stone to greater change.”