The gracious bosses at Starbucks have decided to grant a wage increase for their “partners” across Canada. Affecting 20,000 workers, this will mean an increase of a dollar above provincial minimum wages, and a six to 10 per cent increase for workers who have been with the company for a year. They’re even giving three paid shifts off for sick days! However, there is one store that has received an email informing them that their employees are not eligible for the pay increases: the location on 3180 Douglas St. in Victoria, B.C. The justification offered for this exception by the PR team at Starbucks? That the Douglas Street location has a union, and thus the wage increase would violate the contract they agreed upon.
The “partners” (as Starbucks likes to call its employees) at the Douglas Street location are understandably upset at this, particularly since there is a clause within the contract that allows for bilateral agreements to modify the contract; for instance, in the case of a nation-wide wage increase. The United Steelworkers Union (USW) District 3 that represents them has called on Starbucks to agree to extend the benefits to the Douglas Street workers, but the request has been denied.
As more and more Starbucks locations in the United States unionize—over 50 at the time of writing—the capitalists have been feeling the pressure, and have pulled out all the stops to try and bring an end to the effort. They’ve increased wages at non-union locations, cut shifts for union organizers, and even brought back the founder Howard Schultz as CEO to mollify nervous investors. It is in this environment of increasing working class mobilization that Starbucks’ newfound generosity has emerged.
These wage increases are a cynical maneuver to attempt to break the momentum that Starbucks workers have been gaining. The classic argument of the union “getting between the bosses and the workers” has been deployed to attempt to steer other workers away from unionizing, but it is only the threat of the unions that have caused this turn in the first place! Even those workers not yet in unions benefit in a tangible way; a real case of a rising tide lifting all boats! The benefits the bosses give now will only last as long as the working class continues to fight and threaten their profits; should the workers be driven back, the generosity of Schultz will dry up shortly thereafter.
In the United States, Starbucks’ transparent union-busting tactics have only served to anger workers and drive the unionization campaign, led by Starbucks Workers’ United, forward. As of May 27, 100 Starbucks across the U.S.A. have voted in favour of unionizing, with dozens more petitioning for recognition. Between February and April of this year alone, nearly 150 additional Starbucks petitioned to unionize.
However, in Canada the Douglas Street Starbucks stands alone. Earlier this year, a second location, the Chinook Centre Starbucks in Calgary, applied to unionize with the USW, but the union lost that vote. While the U.S. movement is undoubtedly having its impact north of the border, it has yet to properly take off here. It is difficult for workers at a single unionized coffee shop to stand on their own; it is the movement as a whole that gives workers their strength.
This is why it’s vital for the wave of unionization to spread to Canada as well. The best way that USW can defend workers at the Douglas Street Starbucks is to follow the example of Starbucks Workers United and work to expand unionization across the country.