Walker Avenue Starbucks Workers United rally in Ashland
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Starbucks worker and Southern Oregon University student Rowan White weathered the elements last Thursday, standing in the cold and windy rain outside of the Walker Avenue location, holding up her homemade sign in solidarity.
White has worked at the coffee shop for more than three years and, despite working for multiple managers, says she has seen a pattern of disrespect and low wages. She and a handful of co-workers and supporters took to the corner of the coffee shop at the corner of Ashland Street, braving driving wind and cold rain to make their grievances known.
They carried signs that said, among other things, “I like my union how I like my coffee — strong,” “Don’t let them grind you down” and “No contract, no coffee.”
White and many of her co-workers also signed a letter on behalf of Ashland’s Starbucks Workers United to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz saying they want to unionize to collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions. The group is the first Starbucks coffee location in Southern Oregon to seek to unionize.
“We do not really feel supported,” White told Ashland.news.
In the letter to Schultz, White and her coworkers lay out their grievances, including low pay, hours, and inconsistent behavior by management.
“We have had our hours cut immensely to the point where we are struggling to survive,” the letter states. “Management continues to create an unstable environment within our workplace by failing to consider approved availability when scheduling. Additionally management changes partners schedules after they are posted without letting partners know. Over and over again we are scheduled without enough coverage on the floor to accommodate our store’s needs. There has been retaliation, in the form of arbitrary writeups, disciplinary meetings and demotions. This was brought forth by management targeting partners who were bringing up concerns, were involved in union organizing, or were simply perceived to be pro-union.”
Over the past year, according to the letter, there has been “tremendous negligence” from management at reviewing requests by coworkers to transfer to other locations, promotional opportunities, and considering concerns submitted by employees to management.
“We believe that our management and Starbucks makes it purposefully hard to get access to our paystubs, benefit information, or to contact HR with grievances,” the letter states. “Starbucks also purposefully disregards requests for updated or working equipment.”
The letter also cites a lack of adequate training for new Starbucks workers, which can make a shift harder for veteran workers. Workers also are afraid to “call out” when sick or when weather is too dangerous to come to work.
“We work hard and often risk our health and safety to work during these trying times, and we see very little of the Starbucks Values — “the culture of warmth and belonging” — returned to us by the company, and we believe this has to change.
“We love connecting with and making coffee for our customers,” another section of the letter adds. “We hope they stand with us so we can continue to make great moments for our community.”
White said she loves the people she works with and that they want their own contract that will provide better wages and working conditions.
She would like to log enough hours to pay her half of the rent that she and her partner share for more than $1,025 per month.
White currently makes $16.25 per hour — this after three years working for the company in which she has had a “few raises.”
“One of those raises was after the Buffalo (New York) store unionized,” White said. “They were really trying to get partners (workers) back in Starbucks loyalty so they issued us all a raise. I mean, it’s been helpful, but if I only get like 18 hours a week, then I’m not able to pay rent.”
As a student at SOU studying human services, she can’t work full-time, but would appreciate 25 to 30 hours per week.
“Ashland’s expensive,” she said. “We’re able to make it work most months, but you know, plus utilities, plus groceries ….”
She said she’s lucky her parents are able to help her out with school expenses, but that she’s graduating soon and that will change. She is in her fourth year at SOU but will be continuing as a fifth-year student.
“I still need to be able to pay for myself,” White said.
White’s coworker Naia Duggan is a junior at SOU studying healthcare administration while working at Starbucks part-time.
Duggan said most of the employees at the location, 18 of its 25 employees, are behind the effort, but that some are “nervous” about how management will react if they publicly voice support for a union.
Duggan was among the most enthusiastic in the group rally, raising her sign and her voice to spread awareness of the unionizing effort.
“I love my co-workers, I love my store,” she said. “Honestly, my coworkers make it worth coming to work and the community we have through that, that’s what makes me want to do this.”
She told Ashland.news that the unionizing effort began during summer 2022 when former Starbucks staffers made the attempt to unionize and were fired by the company.
“So eventually it got to the point where we were like, OK, we need to do this,” Duggan said. “We can’t wait for the other people.”
Duggan said coworker Bart Tveskov asked if she would be willing to join the organizing committee, “and I realized how possible it was and then I really got behind it.”
“We’re hoping it will spark the other stores down here,” Duggan said, “and then we can support that effort as well.”
When asked by Ashland.news about the recent unionizing effort, a Starbucks public relations team member responded:
“We’ve been clear in our belief that we can achieve more together by working side-by-side with our partners,” said a spokesperson. “As a result of the direct employment relationship preferred by more than 97% of our partners, we continue to work to reinvent and improve the Starbucks experience. Over the past year, we have announced nearly $1 billion in partner-focused investments, which have been implemented broadly, where allowed by law, and include:
- Investments in wage, bringing the average wage for a partner in the U.S. to $17.50 per hour.
- New technology that enables tipping on credit and debit card transactions.
- A new incentivized savings program in partnership with Fidelity designed to help partners in case of unplanned financial challenges.
A new student loan debt program to empower partners looking to find the best ways to address their college debt management obligations.
- A new increase in sick time accrual ratios for our partners.
- An update to the existing family expansion reimbursement program aimed to assist partners with the costs of growing their families.
Starbucks workers at Ashland’s Walker Avenue location, however, shared concerns about wages and the ability to call in sick when needed.
“We’re aware that a subset of partners feel differently, and we respect their right to organize and to engage in lawful union activities,” a spokesperson said. “At those stores where our partners have chosen to petition for a union representation election, our focus is to ensure that they can trust the process is fair and their voice is heard. We hope that all parties will respect our right to share factual information and our perspective with partners — just as we respect the union’s right to do so — so that partners are able to make an informed, balanced decision regarding union representation.”
The Starbucks spokesperson said the company has fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB for single-store union representation elections, has encouraged partners to exercise their right to vote, and has recognized the outcome of properly conducted elections.
“We look forward to meeting Workers United in-person to begin the single-store collective bargaining process,” the spokesperson said.
Questions, comments, story tips? Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at email@example.com.