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Starbucks workers in Grand Rapids wanting a union, need your support! But this isn’t the first time Starbucks workers fought to unionize in this city

March 15, 2022

On Thursday, March 24th, workers at the Starbucks on Burton and Rosemont SE in Grand Rapids, are asking for ally support in their attempt to form a union.

There have been 6 newly formed unions at Starbucks across the country, with another 120 locations in the process of fighting for a union.

Those fighting to make the Burton & Rosemont Starbucks a unionized workplace are asking the following:

  • Order your coffee with one of these phrases, plus your name: Union Yes, Union Strong or Solidarity
  • Sign the letter at the Starbucks to show your support
  • Spread the word in the GR community

Each of these ways of showing support are easy and risk free. However, if it means the workers at this Starbucks location will be able to form a union, then we should all finds ways to participate. In addition, if this Starbucks location forms a union, then it will be easier for workers at every Starbucks location where workers want the right to collectively bargain!

A brief history of Starbucks unionizing efforts in Grand Rapids

In June of 2008, the indy media blog Media Mouse posted a story about a Starbucks barista who was fired for attempting to organize a union:

Starbucks terminated a barista active in the IWW Starbucks Workers Union today as part of its ongoing effort to combat a growing movement of employees pushing for a living wage and secure work hours. The barista, Cole Dorsey, was fired after two years of service while he was coordinating a union recruitment drive at Starbucks stores in Grand Rapids. Starbucks’ pretext for the illegal anti-union firing was that Dorsey was guilty of some months-old attendance infractions.

“Today I joined the growing number of baristas that Starbucks has fired in its relentless union-busting campaign,” said Cole Dorsey. “Starbucks’ disrespect for the right to join a union is appalling and absolutely will not stop our efforts to have a voice at work.”

The firing comes as a National Labor Relations Board judge is set to rule after a lengthy trial on the retaliatory terminations of three New York City baristas. Even before the firing, the NLRB was investigating whether Starbucks violated a settlement agreement entered into in Grand Rapids over anti-union discrimination. In 2006, Starbucks was forced to re hire two union baristas who had been unlawfully fired for union activity. This latest firing in Grand Rapids signals that reinstalled CEO Howard Schultz will not modify the company’s practice of terminating outspoken union baristas to intimidate workers from joining up.

One month after IWW labor organizer Cole Dorsey was fired from Starbucks, the local IWW chapter organized a protest at a Starbucks location on 28th Street and the E. Beltline. The IWW sent out the following message: 

“Union members and social activists are gearing up for what may be the largest, global coordinated action against Starbucks ever.  Protesters will decry what they see as an epidemic of anti-union terminations by the world’s largest coffee chain.  Starbucks and its CEO Howard Schultz have exhibited a pattern of firing outspoken union baristas ever since the advent of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union in 2004 and are demonstrating the same practice against the CNT union in Spain. On July 5th people around the world will show Starbucks that we, baristas along with our supporters, will have a voice and Starbucks discrimination and repression of our efforts will not go un-checked”, said Cole Dorsey.

In November of 2008, Starbucks was taken to court by the IWW worker for being fired. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) provided a lawyer to fight for the fired Starbucks employee, while Starbucks hired the corporate law firm of Varnum, Riddering,  Schmidt and Howlett.

Then in July of 2009, while awaiting a ruling on the case. The Grand Rapids Chapter of the IWW, organized another demonstration outside of the Starbucks in East Grand Rapids on Wealthy St. The video below includes comments from IWW organizers Cole Dorsey and Erik Foreman, a short march through East Grand Rapids and police who were called to harass those protesting. 

Photo credit: Michael Johnston

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