Starbucks workers rally outside Museum of Modern Art gala in nationwide union talks

On Tuesday evening (June 7), the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted its annual Party in the Garden fundraiser, this year honoring artist Wolfgang Tillmans, filmmaker and former gallerist Linda Goode Bryant, whose l he legacy will be celebrated in an exhibition at the museum this fall. Filmmaker George Lucas and his wife, famed businesswoman Mellody Hobson, co-CEO and chairman of Ariel Investments, chair of the board of Starbucks and, with her husband, co-founder of the billion-dollar Lucas Museum of Narrative Art currently under construction in Los Angeles – were also honored at the event for their philanthropic work.

As the festively dressed attendees began arriving at the museum’s entrance on West 53rd Street around 6 p.m. Tuesday, they were greeted by a crowd of union organizers holding up signs, handing out flyers and chanting at the unison: “Starbucks partners under attack! What are we doing? Get up, fight back,” and, more specifically, “Mellody, it’s not hard to see, you’re on the wrong side of history.

Over the past few years, and particularly since the start of the pandemic, Starbucks workers (identified by the company as “partners”) have faced unsustainable working conditions, including chronic understaffing, unpredictable schedules and a lack of job security and transparency. In August 2021, staff at a location in Buffalo, New York, formed Starbucks Workers United (SWU) and filed a petition to unionize. Since then, 11 Starbucks locations in upstate New York have filed union petitions, with six wins, four pending elections and one contestation.

Starbucks workers and supporters gather outside the Museum of Modern Art’s Party in the Garden gala Courtesy of Workers United NY NJ Regional Joint Board

In retaliation for its partners’ attempts to unionize, Starbucks launched an aggressive union-busting campaign to discourage workers from participating by laying off staff, closing sites, cutting hours, and disseminating union-busting material. Starbucks’ Refusal and Refusal to Sign SWU’s Fair Election Principles and concede not to intervene with the unions, the campaign efforts seem to have largely served to galvanize the partners, who continue to organize nationally. To date, over 115 locations have voted to unionize and over 275 petitions have been filed across the country.

While Starbucks partners have had immense success in their organizing efforts, they allege that the company’s persistent scare tactics are an obstacle to the progressive movement to ensure workers in non-traditionally unionized industries can obtain safety. job and, by extension, perform better in their role.

The rally outside MoMA, made up of members of Starbucks Workers United and supported by labor groups including Workers United NY/NJIATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and United Auto Workers Local 2110 (UAW), which represents workers at dozens of nonprofits and arts institutions, came together to try to get their message straight to Hobson, hoping to stop Starbucks’ union-busting efforts. . “All we ask of him is to accept neutrality and non-interference in the union process,” a Workers United representative said. The arts journal.

Unions allege that since becoming president in March 2021, Hobson’s lack of leadership and support for Starbucks partners – who Starbucks says are 71.3% women and 48.2% men Black, Indigenous and People of Color (Bipoc) – suggests she is complicit in the company’s union-busting tactics, a position that is at odds with her reputation as a philanthropist. Among his many roles, Hobson is a member of the board of trustees of the George Lucas Education Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies and sits on the board of trustees of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Center for Strategic & International Studies. . As one organizer at the protest asked, “How can you be rewarded as a philanthropist when you’re not allowing workers to earn a living and support themselves?”

Starbucks workers and supporters gather outside the Museum of Modern Art’s Party in the Garden gala Courtesy of Workers United NY NJ Regional Joint Board

Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, which represents about 250 workers in multiple MoMA departments, attended the protest to show her support for Starbucks workers. “It’s a great time to get involved in the labor movement, with so many young workers organising,” she said. “Organising is the only way for workers to have a democratic voice in the workplace. It enables them to preserve and improve their working conditions. It is the only thing that will give workers the power or influence to push for better conditions.

A Workers United representative explained that the efforts of the Starbucks union are so crucial in large part because the campaign is worker-led and Starbucks partners are involved in all meetings and decisions regarding the campaign. Partner involvement and power-sharing are central tenets of organizers, who say organizing is the best way for workers to “meaningfully contribute to the partnership” and work together to improve the business while maintaining stable careers.

Rosenstein added that Starbucks’ labor movement is important because it is made up of young people, mostly minimum-wage workers in an industry that has largely been unorganized. She compares the movement to that of museum workers, who are also poorly paid and often have to negotiate precarious part-time positions.

“Right now, there is huge systemic inequality in wages, housing is extremely expensive, and college graduates are coming out of school with a lot of debt while watching the rich get even richer. During the pandemic, this inequality of wealth has become even clearer, with mass layoffs and furloughs,” said Rosenstein, who believes the labor movement will continue to grow.

CJ Toothman, a 26-year-old organizer and barista at Starbucks Reserve in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who will vote on unionization next week, said “there’s definitely momentum all across New York City and across the country.” . A native of West Virginia, Toothman grew up picketing with his father, a coal miner, and his mother, a postal worker. “I believe this is the future of union organizing and American labor,” she said. “This is one of the strongest union activities the country has seen since the 1920s and 1930s.”

Mellody Hobson and George Lucas attend MoMA’s Garden Party on June 7, 2022 in New York City. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for the Museum of Modern Art

Since he started working for Starbucks in October last year, Toothman has seen the consequences of understaffing, explaining that several new workers quit because they were not offered supervision. “I work overtime pretty much every week, and despite that, I still struggle to earn rent,” she said.

Toothman added that at his Starbucks store, the company’s anti-union campaign is inescapable. “We have seen animosity towards the workers who sign the letter saying they want a union. We all had to attend one-on-one discussions with our district manager and were forced to read anti-union materials.

Speaking to Starbucks management, she said: “We show up every day to work for you; you have to show up and work with us.

As the protest outside the MoMA gala ended, Hobson had still not been seen entering or exiting the museum through the 53rd Street entrance, presumably having used a different entrance. The organizers were nevertheless in good spirits, having come together to spread their message.

Representatives for the museum did not respond to requests for comment.

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