As the unionization drive at Starbucks is well into its second year, the company's anti-organizing tactics face pushback from a new group. Students at 11 U.S. universities are now advocating for the removal of Starbucks locations and products from their campuses. First reported by Teen Vogue, students at these universities are making their voices heard and acting in solidarity with the organizing group Starbucks Workers United by unveiling billboards criticizing the company's anti-union activities. Colleges targeted by the student action include the University of Arizona, the University of Washington, and the University of Chicago. Tasting Table has reached out to Starbucks for comment but has not received a response.
With billboards sporting messages like "Students prefer our coffee union-brewed," the organizers say they are targeting Starbucks because, while the chain is popular among many in their generation, they don't feel its actions represent their values when it comes to labor. Owen Camferdam, a student at American University, says that because of Starbuck's self-promoted progressive image, "people are really taken aback by the crazy union-busting and evil sh*t that they're doing."
While the protests are supportive of unionization efforts, they are especially focused on Starbucks' attempts to thwart this activity, which, among other abuses, has included closing the locations where employees have voted to unionize. Over the short life of the union drive, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), has brought roughly 100 separate cases against Starbucks alleging over 1,000 union-busting actions by Starbucks, with the company losing the vast majority of those cases.
The Protest That Inspired The Protests
Protests kicked off earlier this year at Cornell University when, in May, students called upon the university to sever ties with Starbucks after the company closed several locations in the home of Cornell's main campus in Ithaca, New York. The Starbucks locations in Ithaca were some of the first in the country to unionize, and it became the first city in the U.S. where all of the chain's locations had an organized workforce. Students and workers regarded the closures as a retaliative effort against the union. The NLRB later found in the union's favor and demanded the company reopen at least one of the Ithaca locations, though Starbucks continued to deny wrongdoing. In addition to affecting the community near Cornell, many of the people who lost their jobs when the Ithaca locations closed were students.
While initial meetings with university faculty were considered disappointing by union supporters, Cornell eventually decided not to renew their contract with Starbucks, which activists counted as a victory. That successful action has likely inspired the expanded student protests we are seeing now. Starbucks has around 300 campus locations nationwide, and while that represents just a fraction of its business, they are high-profile spots for young Americans. Given the momentum of the expanding movement and the current contentious relationship between Starbucks and the union, this is likely just the beginning of the college fight.
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