Sam Allard / Scene
A protester holds a sign outside the W. 6th Starbucks.
Support for labor unions in the United States is higher today (68%)
than it has been since the mid 1960s. That support was in evidence Wednesday afternoon in downtown Cleveland, as pedestrians and motorists in the Warehouse District voiced their support or honked their horns in solidarity with local Starbucks workers and their allies who were demonstrating outside the W. 6th location of the popular coffee shop.
The W. 6th Starbucks was the first local location, and one of the first two in the state of Ohio, to form a union. Three other Northeast Ohio locations have declared their intent to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board as well and are likely to vote on their unions by the end of July.
The local organizing efforts are part of a nationwide wave as workers, battered by the pandemic and the widening economic inequality therefrom, are beginning to collectively assert their rights and demand higher wages and better treatment on the job.
The demonstration Wednesday was staged not only to support these unionization efforts generally, but to condemn the retaliatory actions by Starbucks management as the W. 6th workers seek their first contract.
Two workers from the University Circle location described how managers there and elsewhere have cut the hours of employees, in some cases drastically, (from 40 to fewer than 10 hours per week), reducing workers' ability to pay for rent, transportation and other essentials.
These actions, alongside anti-union messaging from corporate leadership, have led to high rates of turnover. Despite the desire for a union, many employees have quit due to their reduced income while others have been wrongfully terminated.
But the mood Wednesday was nevertheless hopeful and energetic. Representatives from Starbucks Workers United and a strong contingent from the Cleveland chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and other organized labor allies chanted "No Contract, No Coffee," "Worker Power," "The workers united will never be defeated," "Union busting is disgusting" as they marched with handmade signs up and down W. 6th.
One local Starbucks worker said that management had been waging an anti-union war from the moment organizing began and that they "thought they were winning," because it has taken so long to negotiate a contract at W. 6th and for other locations to get their unions off the ground.
"But we're not quitting, we're not resting, we're not stopping," they said. "This will get bigger. We will win the union. We will keep making a difference. They won't know what hit them. "
Anna Grace from Cleveland DSA framed worker power as a prelude to organizing for a laundry list of human rights.
"When we organize in unions," she said, "we reclaim the power to make these decisions for ourselves. We are going to make the union movement strong again in Cleveland."
"Organize Starbucks!" The crowd cheered. "Organize Amazon!' it morphed in short order. "Organize Everywhere!"
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